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Jewish World Review March 24, 2000/ 17 Adar II, 5760

Wesley Pruden

Wes Pruden
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Dissing a president can ruin a whole day -- CAN'T THIS MAN get no respect?

Bill Clinton went to India to resolve the differences between India and Pakistan, willing to devote an entire week to the project, and all he got for his trouble was a humiliating public lecture from the Indian president.

Back home, Beijing's No. 2 man in Washington was conceding (in so many words) that not only was China not necessarily getting its money's worth for all those illegal campaign contributions, but he wasn't really any more useful to China than, of all people, Ronald Reagan and George Bush the elder.

Out on the campaign trail, Al Gore, who worked for seven fat years to clone himself after the man who used to be the kid from Hot Springs but is now the squire of Westchester County, was trying so hard to make people forget Bill Clinton that he had taken to comparing himself to John McCain.

Not even the groupie swoon of the New Delhi press could ease the sting of President K.R. Narayanan's toast at the state dinner, when he told Mr. Clinton that he didn't know what he was talking about when he called the subcontinent a place of unique peril.

"It has been suggested that the Indian subcontinent is the most dangerous place in the world today, and Kashmir is a nuclear flash point," Mr. Narayanan said, recalling Mr. Clinton's description, which he made at a White House prayer breakfast in early February. "These alarmist descriptions will only encourage those who want to break the peace and indulge in terrorism and violence."

Mr. Clinton, seated only a few feet away, and if he were seething inside, as any American president should have been, the expression on his face did not show it. It was an extraordinary moment, and when Mr. Clinton rose to give his return toast everyone in the room caught his breath, waiting to see if there would be a response. There was none. Could anyone imagine such a public rebuke, and in such a formal setting where dinner-party hyperbole and diplomatic bloviation is the norm, to Lyndon Johnson or Ronald Reagan or George Bush, or even to Jimmy Carter?

Mr. Clinton's aides insisted the rebuke, even if a rebuke bordering on impertinence, didn't mean a thing. Said an operative of the National Security Council, airily: "It doesn't faze us."

Probably not, and the next day Mr. Clinton and his daughter Chelsea resumed their tourist's look at India, their paths swept free of the beggars and dacoits whose ubiquitous presence make regular tourists earn their sensual delights.

The president got his own sensual delights in his visit to the parliament, where, after a tactful lecture on why India should give up its nuclear weapons, he did the riff for which he has no peer, his Gettysburg Address on how he feels their pain. India, he told them, has a great opportunity to get their satisfaction the way he gets (some of) his. India, he said, could "show its neighbors that democracy is about dialogue. It does not have to be about friendship."

It was one of his boffo performances. When the great hall erupted in a standing ovation, as one of the representatives later told the New York Times, her colleagues were "jumping on chairs and over benches to shake his hand." So what's the humiliation of a public rebuke when measured against a sensual treat like that? The humiliation was only the humiliation of the American presidency (and as any of Mr. Clinton's liege men might say, "That's old news.")

The news from China was more serious. Despite a pending vote in Congress on whether to grant permanent normal trade relations with China, the government in Beijing continues to treat the United States as if it were merely an obstreperous province.

The deputy chief of the Chinese mission in Washington, speaking as if he were the chief of the Visa Section at the American Embassy in Taipei, instructed Mr. Clinton and his government not to allow Chen Shui-bian, the new president of the Republic of China on Taiwan, to visit the United States either before or after his inauguration. Some Americans think that the United States should be the sole judge of who it allows to visit us.

Like a cowboy with a new Colt .45, the Chinese can't resist rattling their new weapons, and some of them are resurrecting the language of the Cultural Revolution, when Beijing's diplomats often announced their arrival with bombast punctuated with bombs and grenades. One Chinese army newspaper last week suggested that the United States would sacrifice "200 million Americans" if it defends Taiwan against a mainland invasion, as the United States is committed by treaty to do.

More bombast, no doubt. But is that any way to treat the best president money can buy?

JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.


03/20/00: When shame begets the painful insult
03/14/00: The risky business of making an apology
03/10/00: The pouters bugging a weary John McCain
03/07/00: When all good things (sob) come to an end

© 2000 Wes Pruden