Jewish World Review March 3, 2006/ 3 Adar,
It's not a holiday, but it beats Dodge
Every president knows the feeling. Troubles, migraines and vexations pile up at home, and it's impossible to resist the temptation to pack up and beat it out of Dodge.
This trip was planned before anyone could imagine that recriminations over Katrina, spying on terrorists and outrage over turning U.S. ports over to unsavory foreign managers would converge in misery for the president. But with a fortnight like the one he's had, George W. Bush might well find Afghanistan, Pakistan and even Baghdad more congenial than Washington.
He feels particular affinity for Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the president of Pakistan who foiled not one, not two, not even three, but four assassination attempts. "Terrorists and killers are not going to prevent me from going to Pakistan," Mr. Bush said yesterday on the eve of his flight to Islamabad. "After all, he has had a direct stake in this fight. Four times the terrorists have tried to kill him."
Friendly or not, Pakistan poses genuine risks of an unaccustomed kind. The White House security apparatus, sometimes over the top in its campaign to sanitize the path of presidents — such as destroying Pennsylvania Avenue to turn the 1600 block into a dreary "security plaza" worthy of Pyongyang — for once has a task worthy of the Secret Service bureaucracy. "At this point people are comfortable that the necessary precautions are in place," said the president's national security adviser of the preparations to visit Islamabad. "But this is not a risk-free undertaking." Well, life never is, not for any of us, and however liberated he may feel to be out of the fever swamps of Washington he should listen to his bodyguards. A senior American diplomat was killed by a car bomb only yesterday.
By all accounts the first days of the president's trip have gone well, beginning with his first visit to his troops in Afghanistan, where the reconstituted Taliban is making life difficult again for the government that replaced it. There was bad news for the Taliban from Washington, where the Senate approved renewal of the Patriot Act by a stunning vote of 89-10. Even Teddy Kennedy and Hillary Clinton voted for it.
The greatest accomplishment of the trip is the nuclear agreement reached in New Delhi, ending India's decades-long isolation as the good guys who refuse to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that binds most nations of the world not to arm themselves with nuclear weapons. India will allow international inspectors to monitor only the civilian nuclear program, and in return the United States will share reactors, knowledge and fuel. "I'm trying to think differently, not stay stuck in the past," the president said. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh replied that it was a nice day. (His actual words were: "We have made history today, and I thank you.")
The relative warmth of the president's visit, not counting the handful of demonstrators with insulting posters, underlined one of the most far-reaching foreign-policy changes wrought during George W.'s presidency, the expansion of ties between two countries that barely spoke to each other during the icy years of the Cold War, when India was "nonaligned" and sucked up to Moscow without shame.
The president got an unwelcome hint of what's waiting for him when he returns home to the world's oldest democracy from the world's largest democracy. The Democrats aren't about to let the president change the subject, not if they can help it, after a fortnight of feasting on bad news. "With one simple move," said Rep. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, senior Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, "the president has blown a hole in the nuclear rules that the entire world has been playing by and broken his own word to assure that we will not ship nuclear technology to India without the proper safeguards."
If the agreement doesn't resolve India's weapons program, it nevertheless helps because now it's a friendlier country with nuclear weapons. It's a friendly country in Asia, too, providing a counterweight to China, which is a nuclear power and not friendly besides.
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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.
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