With the media’s fixation on Karl Rove’s chatty telephone habits, President Bush’s greeting this week of two prime ministers almost escaped notice. It shouldn’t have.
Indeed, it took an Australian correspondent in Prime Minister John Howard’s press retinue to break through our homegrown journalists’ myopia. He waited patiently, this scribbler from Down Under, as his Yankee counterparts could only obsess about who leaked CIA employee Valerie Plame’s name.
Sensing that the East Room needed some substance, he asked Messrs. Bush and Howard about how the two countries would manage relations with China. Beijing’s mounting influence, by turns, seems to welcome Western commerce and threaten global peace.
The two leaders seemed visibly to be thanking their lucky stars for serious journalism. The query occasioned comments from both men, center-right standard-bearers in both countries, about the beneficent impact of capitalism, individual freedom and family solidity.
China, of course, has embraced the first ingredient — even while its Communist leadership still maintains an iron political grip. The darker side recently was accented by a startlingly bellicose People’s Liberation Army general, who suggested America’s insistent defense of Taiwan’s independence might tip into nuclear warfare.
Prime Minister Howard, whose continental nation has traded with China longer, and whose proximity affords clear-eyed perspective, offered the sanguine view that no such holocaust was likely. He, too, saw trade as the classical path to peace.
President Bush echoed the free-traders’ notion that capitalism creates demand for more liberty and democracy. For evidence, he could have cited his previous day’s visitor: India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Dr. Singh is the Oxford-trained economist who’s credited with opening up, as finance minister in 1991, the Asian subcontinent to free-market economics. That step marked a dramatic turn for India, which throughout its post-colonial period had struggled with a sluggish socialism introduced by English theorists.
The collapse of socialism, most notable in the former Soviet bloc, also reached India — whose Cold War “neutrality,” of course, was belied by its affinity for Kremlin-designed foreign policy. But India’s history, its English language and legal system, gave it an advantage in the world economy.
India’s boom suggested to Western diplomats that its vast size and teeming population could be employed to offset Chinese hegemony over Asia. Fine, said New Delhi, so help us develop nuclear power. Give us a seat on the United Nations Security Council.
Singh did not leave Washington with the UN accommodation. But he did go with the Bush administration’s promise to share nuclear technology — an override of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which requires signatory nations not to grow nuclear warheads.
India did not sign that treaty. But its turbaned prime minister did help George W. Bush and John Howard knit together a newer world alliance, English-speaking and liberty-loving. That will be remembered when Karl Rove is a footnote and Valerie Plame and her once-a-diplomat husband — what’s his name? — will be forgotten.