This week’s five nuclear tests in India “came as a complete shock, a bolt out of the blue,” explained a senior Clinton administration official to The New York Times.

Hmmmm. I wonder why? Only a week or so earlier, India’s Defense Minister George Fernandes declared China to be the “potential threat number one” to the world’s largest democracy. India shares another border with perennial adversary and nuclear power Pakistan.

Fernandes pointed out that China has transferred missile technology and nuclear know-how to Islamabad and is stockpiling nuclear weapons in Tibet. He also warned that China is training an army in Myanmar and had set up listening posts in islands off the coast of India.

In a television interview broadcast May 4, Fernandes spelled it out India’s options: The government would conduct a strategic review to determine whether the threat is serious enough “where you have to go for a nuclear weapon.”

“It’s because there has been a change in threat perceptions today,” he added. “If those threat perceptions are as one visualizes them to be (following the review), then you have no option. If one says options are to be exercised, then one exercises them at some point in time. We believe the time has come to exercise the option.”

I guess the CIA wasn’t only asleep at the switch when it came time to monitoring the nuclear blasts, but also during Fernandes’ TV broadcast. Duh.

While Indian officials haven’t specifically mentioned the U.S.’ transfer of highly sensitive nuclear missile technology to China under President Clinton’s careful watch as a reason for heightened tension, it sort of goes without saying.

Let’s see. The president approves the sale of missile guidance technology to China, which has nuclear weapons targeted on the United States. In fact, the president is promoting even closer trade agreements and high-tech commercial deals with Beijing in spite of the fact that a top official recently threatened to nuke Los Angeles. Meanwhile, for conducting tests that are clearly designed to serve as a deterrent to aggression against its people and borders, India is slapped with U.S. economic and political sanctions. India, meanwhile, has no nuclear weapons targeted at the United States. Is this a coherent foreign and national security policy?

Pakistan is expected to follow India’s lead, perhaps in the next few days, and test its own nuclear arsenal.

Though no airborne radioactivity was reported following the Indian tests, the geo-strategic fallout is potentially disastrous. And President Clinton has no one to blame but the incompetence of his own policies — policies of reckless and irresponsible favoritism toward China, which is not only the No. 1 potential threat to India, but to America as well.

And why the coddling of China? The only apparent answer is greed.

China has an immense and growing economy, which multinational corporations based in the United States are dying to exploit. And China has shown that it is more than willing to invest millions of dollars in U.S. political campaigns to secure the kind of favorable treatment and respect it has craved for so long.

Clinton’s ruthless campaign style is as immoral as his foreign policy. In 1996, for instance, while decrying the Republicans’ acceptance of money from U.S. tobacco companies, the Democrats accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Chinese-government owned tobacco company, one that sells more cigarettes, by the way, than any other corporate entity in the world.

Perhaps Americans aren’t yet prepared to accept the obvious facts about the man they placed in the Oval Office. But the rest of the world is not wearing blinders. They are not sitting around enjoying the good times. They are not impressed with the performance of the U.S. stock market. They are not discussing the last episode of “Seinfeld.” They are concerned about their own survival. And they are, understandably, prepared to fight for it.

If you’re not thoroughly convinced that American political leaders have lost their collective minds or worse, consider this: In the midst of the unprecedented nuclear escalation taking place in South Asia, Democrats in the U.S. Senate Wednesday — the same day India exploded two nuclear devices in the desert — successfuly filibustered a motion Wednesday to deploy a missile-defense system as soon as technology permits. Instead, the plan is to take our sweet time developing the technology, then discuss for three years whether we really need to protect Americans from incoming ballistic missiles.

In 1998, this is the kind of treacherous, suicidal appeasement that passes for leadership in America.

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