Choices usually involve a price, but people persist in believing that they can avoid paying it.
That's what the Indian government thought when it joined the American alliance system in Asia in 2005, but now the price is clear: China is claiming the whole Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, some 83,000 square kilometres of mountainous territory in the eastern Himalayas containing over a million people.
China has claimed Arunachal Pradesh for a century. However, most Indians thought the dispute had more or less ended.
And that might actually have happened in the end - if India had not signed what amounts to a military accord with the United States.
In June 2006 I spent two weeks in New Delhi interviewing Indian analysts and policy-makers about India's strategic relations with the U.S. and China.
With few exceptions, their confidence that India could "manage' China's reaction to its American alliance was still very high.
"India knows what it is doing," insisted Prem Shankar Jha, former editor of the Hindustan Times, citing confidential sources close to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. "It is not going to make China an enemy."
On the face of it, India got a very good deal in the lengthy negotiations that led up to the military cooperation agreement.
It got access not just to current U.S. military technology but also to the next generation of American weapons (with full technology transfer).
The Indian military is predicted to buy $30 billion of U.S. hardware and software in the next five years. It got all sorts of joint training deals, including U.S. Navy instruction for Indian carrier pilots. And Washington officially forgave India for testing nuclear weapons in 1998.
This was the only part of the deal that got much attention in Washington, where the Bush administration waged a long struggle (only recently concluded) to get Congress to end U.S. sanctions against exporting nuclear materials and technologies to India.
Stressing the military aspects of the new relationship would only rile the Chinese, who would obviously conclude that it was directed against them. Especially since America's closest allies in the Asia-Pacific region, Japan and Australia, have also now started forging closer military relations with India.
It took a while, but China was bound to react. Last November, just before President Hu Jintao's first visit to India, the Chinese ambassador firmly stated that "the entire state (of Arunachal Pradesh) is a part of China."
This took New Delhi by surprise, defence analyst Uday Bhaskar told the Financial Times last week: "The Indians had taken the  political parameters [for negotiating the border issue] as Chinese acceptance of the status quo." They should have known better.
It's mostly petty irritants so far, but they accumulate over time. Last month, for example, Indian Navy ships took part in joint exercises with the U.S. and Japanese navies in the western Pacific, several thousand kilometres from home and quite close to China's east coast.
Admiral Sureesh Mehta, chief of naval staff, said the exercise had "no evil intent,' and two Indian warships also spent a day exercising with the Chinese navy to take the curse off it - but Beijing knows which exercise was the important one.
Also last month, India cancelled a confidence-building visit to China by 107 senior civil servants. Why? Because Beijing refused to issue a visa to the one civil servant in the group who was from Arunachal Pradesh, on the grounds that he was already Chinese and did not need one.
A year ago, Indian foreign policy specialists were confident that they could handle China's reaction to their American deal.
In fact, many of them seemed to believe that they had taken the Americans to the cleaners: that India would reap all the technology and trade benefits of the U.S. deal without paying any price in terms of its relationship with its giant neighbour to the north.
But there was confidence in Washington, too: a quiet confidence that once India signed the 10-year military cooperation deal with Washington, its relations with China would automatically deteriorate and it would slide willy-nilly into a full military alliance with the United States.
Who has taken whom to the cleaners remains to be seen.
Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 firstname.lastname@example.org