Mr. Bush's Asian Road Trip

Editorial

New York Times

March 6, 2006

There is a lot of good a president can do on a visit to another country: negotiate treaties that enhance American security, shore up a shaky alliance, generate good will in important parts of the world. Unfortunately, President Bush didn't do any of those good things on his just-completed visit to Pakistan and India and might have done some real harm.

The spectacularly misconceived trip may have inflicted serious damage to American goals in two vital areas, namely, mobilizing international diplomacy against the spread of nuclear weapons and encouraging Pakistan to take more effective action against the Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters operating from its territory.

The nuclear deal that Mr. Bush concluded with India threatens to blast a bomb-size loophole through the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. It would have been bad enough on its own, and disastrously ill timed, because it undercuts some of the most powerful arguments Washington could make to galvanize international opposition to Iran's nuclear adventurism.

But the most immediate damage was done on Mr. Bush's next stop, Pakistan. Washington is trying to persuade Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani military dictator, to defy nationalist and Islamic objections and move more aggressively against Pakistani-based terrorists. This is no small issue because both Osama bin Laden and the Taliban's leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, are now believed to operate from Pakistani soil.

But sticking Mr. Musharraf with the unwelcome task of explaining to Pakistanis why his friend and ally, Mr. Bush, had granted favorable nuclear terms to Pakistan's archrival, India, while withholding them from Pakistan left him less likely to do Washington any special, and politically unpopular, favors on the terrorism front.

It's just baffling why Mr. Bush traveled halfway around the world to stand right next to one of his most important allies against terrorists and embarrass him. India and Pakistan are military rivals that have fought each other repeatedly. They have both developed nuclear weapons outside the nonproliferation treaty, which both refuse to sign. When India exploded its first acknowledged nuclear weapons eight years ago, Pakistan felt obliged to follow suit within weeks.

So when Mr. Bush agreed to carve out an exception to global nonproliferation rules for India, it should have been obvious that Pakistani opinion would demand the same privileged treatment, and that Mr. Musharraf would be embarrassed by Mr. Bush's explicit refusal to provide it.

Mr. Bush was right to say no to Pakistan. It would be an unthinkably bad idea to grant a loophole to a country whose top nuclear scientist helped transfer nuclear technology to leading rogue states. Granting India a loophole that damages a vital treaty and lets New Delhi accelerate production of nuclear bombs makes no sense either.

Mr. Bush should have just stayed home.