As President Bush spends this week meeting with leaders in Japan, South Korea and China and interacting with the citizens of those countries, his every word will be scrutinized by America's allies and foes because the big question has yet to be answered: Will the world's lone superpower become the neighborhood bully or will it use its strength to forge a more peaceful, understanding global society?
When President Nixon visited China 30 years ago, the United States was then embroiled in a war, but that one tore this nation apart. The emotional scars from the Vietnam conflict have still not healed.
Today, we are fighting a different kind of war, one in which the enemy is an idea -- terrorism. On Sept. 11, America was pulled into this war after terrorists aligned with Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaida criminal organization hijacked fuel-laden commercial airplanes and crashed them into the World Trade Center twin towers in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and into the countryside in Western Pennsylvania. More than 3,000 people died.
President Bush vowed that their deaths would not go unpunished, and thus began America's war on international terrorists and their sponsors. The ouster of the Taliban government in Afghanistan, which had become a safe haven for bin Laden and Al-Qaida, was the first step. Today, American Special Forces are in other countries, assisting those governments in going after terrorist cells that have been the cause of so much pain and suffering around the world.
Global economy: It is against this backdrop that Bush has embarked on a six-day visit to Tokyo, Beijing and Seoul. Last fall, he visited Shanghai. And although the president remains unyielding in his contention that in the war on terrorism, nations of the world are either with the United States or against the United States, he is also acutely aware that the realities of a global economy require a soft touch when dealing with our trading partners.
Thus, in his meetings Monday with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Bush left no doubt about the importance of Japan to the world's economic well-being when he said, "It is important for the world's second-largest economy to grow. It will help the region, and it will help the world." The president also made it clear that the U.S.-Japanese alliance is "the bedrock for peace and prosperity in the Pacific," and he sought to calm the fears of many Japanese over his "axis of evil" label for Iraq, Iran and North Korea, by saying that Japan is "one of America's greatest and truest friends."
The international controversy triggered by Bush's "axis of evil" label is expected to loom large during his visit to South Korea.
In China, Bush undoubtedly will take up the thorny issue of trade and that nation's barriers that restrict the importation of American goods. The trade imbalance has been a bone of contention for many Americans.