By all the conventional metrics of politics, President Bush's recent trip to India has been a consummate success. In meetings with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the president shored up one of the still-enduring American alliances with Asia, watching out for an emerging powerhouse, a comer if there ever was one.
Bush and Singh agreed on a landmark nuclear energy agreement, a pact that goes a long way to furthering the ties between the world's oldest democracy and the world's biggest. india agreed to open many of its nuclear reactors to international inspection The trip deflected, if only for a Washington minute, the attention to his various other disasters, from the progress of the Iraq war to the equally slow unwinding of the CIA leak investigation and its proximity, or lack of same, to the Oval Office.
President Bush brought along the first lady, Laura, on a trip whose political purpose was obvious but whose emotional potential was apparently unimpressive. The president, you see, has conducted the whole trip -- his entire time spent in India -- without going to the Taj Mahal.
You know the place. That utterly arresting, 17th-century white marble mausoleum, an architectural tribute to love, built by an emperor in the memory of his favorite wife. One of maybe two or three of the most recognizable buildings on earth.
When pressed on why they didn't go there, Bush said it was basically unavoidable.
In an interview with Indian reporters before the trip, recorded by the Associated Press, he blamed his scheduler for the situation.
"Look, if I were the scheduler, perhaps I'd be doing things differently," he said. "But you want me doing one thing. I'll be the president, we've got the scheduler being the scheduler.
Singh didn't let him off the hook. "I am truly sorry the president is not taking you to Taj Mahal this time," the prime minister said. "I hope he will be more chivalrous next time you are here."
Bush had apparently already caught a load of grief about it. "I've been hearing about it from Laura ever since I told her that we weren't going," he told AP.
And rightfully so. Leaving India without touring the Taj Mahal? And blaming his scheduler? Sorry, mister sir, but there's just something cheap and hollow and weird about that. You do India, you visit the Taj Mahal. It's that simple. A kid with wanderlust and a credit card near its limit would find a way to do it on the cheap.
And scheduling issues? What scheduling issues? When the world dances to your Rolodex, more or less, there are no scheduling problems you can't get around. What's the point of being the POTUS -- Mover of armies! Swayer of nations! Steward of the public purse! -- if you can't tweak your timetable to accommodate your wife, the first lady, the one person on the planet willing to put up with you and everything about you for the rest of her life?
And no, coming back in a year or six on a repeat visit doesn't cut it. It's just not the same, having to double back and do what you should have done the first time. Sorry, Mr. President, sir. There's just some things a man's supposed to do for his wife. No excuses, no pressing engagements, no blaming your minions and handlers. When you are within spitting distance of one of the world's signature structures, as exotic and dramatic and romantic an object as humans have ever devised ... you're supposed to go.