More than anything else, the next president of the United States is likely to pursue a steady, incremental policy of engagement with India. No rollback, no fast track, just a workmanlike consolidation of the new relationship that the Bush administration forged with two Indian governments. This news may be a letdown for fans of a stronger U.S.-India partnership, since we are not likely to see the sorts of breakthrough deals and high-stakes negotiations that have characterized the recent past.
It is hard to find evidence that any one of the major U.S. presidential contenders plans to place India at the center of his (or her) foreign policy agenda. But it is nearly impossible to identify one who would intentionally veer from the new India-friendly status quo. In itself, this transformation is significant. In American politics today, India’s democratic institutions, rapid growth, and strategic location make it an easy country to support.
Under Bush, the relationship—at least on the U.S. side—has just about managed to escape the chains of the nonproliferation debate and fly into a stable orbit at a higher altitude. If the nuclear deal finally goes through, the stage would be set for new and ambitious bilateral initiatives. But there are reasons to suspect that “ambition” may not be the defining characteristic of Washington’s India policy over the next several years.