Probably the biggest misconception in the study of history is the presumption of any sort of constant, though the presumption of universality is a close second. In other words, the misconception that things have always been a certain way and/or will remain so and the misconception that literally anything—an idea, an attribute, an opinion—is the same the world over.
Of course, these misconceptions are all rooted in human nature. We tend to look at things in terms of ourselves. We tend to view the future as a linear progression originating from precisely here and now, and the past as an inevitable predecessor to what we know as the present.
Let me explain. For example, it would have been next to impossible for a Muslim Arab living in Baghdad at the turn of the 11th century to imagine a world dominated by the fair-skinned Christians of the barbaric northwest, sad remnants of the long dead Roman Empire.
Europeans would have scoffed at the prospect of the United States at the forefront of the global economy not even a hundred years ago. The world as they knew it was one ruled by Europeans; the notion of any other scenario was surely in reference to the distant past, wherein history was still undecided, still slowly wandering to the decided present.
People of the future, perhaps our grandchildren, will surely marvel at our own times, a bizarre world in which China had yet to come into its own as a multi-continental space-faring empire; its capital, of course, being Beijing.
A silly hypothetical, perhaps. But the essence remains valid. Historical precedent would stress us not to dismiss even this far-fetched scenario as an impossibility. You never know.
My main point in this half-baked conjecture is that things change. The world we know, upon whose rhetorical throne the U.S. currently sits, will not last indefinitely. Powers shift. New ones grow, as old ones diminish. I would not go so far as to predict doom for America any time in the near future; our position on the world stage, in spite of everything, remains relatively strong. Though our star has not yet begun to fall, another is certainly on the rise.
It’s not the crowded, Asian, emerging economy you’re thinking of. The country I refer to—with whom I urge the pursuit of closer diplomatic and economic ties over the next decade—is India.
Real quick: India equals democracy. It is the second most populous country in the world, with some 1.2 billion as of July 2011. It maintains the world’s seventh largest active military, and possesses a stockpile of nuclear weapons. It is the world’s tenth largest economy and is the fourth fastest growing (narrowly beating China, which is fifth).
Oh, and it shares a border with Pakistan.
All these economic and strategic positives, it should be noted, are positive in that they indicate a positive future. Currently, things in India could be quite a bit better. Though India’s economy is comparatively large, it is still not enough to support its massive population. A deplorable number of Indian citizens subside on a meager $1.25 a day, the IMF international poverty standard. This means a great deal of poor, illiterate Indians (63 percent of Indian adults can read), living in the sort of conditions that rightly infer a public health crisis. Additionally, widespread political corruption continues to impede the progressive legislation necessary to approach these problems.
India and the U.S. have a number of shared interests, of which both could benefit through cooperation. Strategically, India may serve as a crucial regional foil to growing Chinese influence, and can contribute capably to stemming the tide of Islamic radicalism in Central Asia. Economically, a shared interest in similar economic models–India has recently embraced a significantly more capitalist system–paves the way for limitless economic cooperation. The fact that India is a parliamentary democracy with an all-volunteer military is also a plus.
Currently, the pursuit of closer cooperation with India receives only minimal attention. The reasons for this are complicated, predominantly the undesirable American relationship with Pakistan, still woefully necessary for the conduct of the war in Afghanistan. Though Indian officials generally favor a continued U.S. presence in the region, closer ties remain elusive for, as long as the close American/Pakistani relationship exists. Chances are, that relationship will remain for as long as the war in Afghanistan does.
Honestly, that’s just one more good reason to get the hell out of that country.