Bush and Fox: Geopolitical Version of the Two Amigos ; Both Men Wear Cowboy Boots. Both Are at Home on the Ranch. Is It Roosevelt- Churchill All over Again?

Article excerpt

Mexico's President Vicente Fox was scheduled to drop by the White House yesterday for a half-hour visit. Nothing urgent. He just happened to be in town and thought he would look in on his new friend - you know, president to president, rancher to rancher, neighbor to neighbor.

Or as our Spanglish president might say, amigo to amigo.

The visit was their third in just over three months - highly unusual for a new US chief executive. It's a sign that the Bush- Fox friendship may be headed for the presidential best-buddies hall of fame - where it might take a place alongside other great partnerships: Bill Clinton and Tony Blair; Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher; Jimmy Carter and Anwar Sadat; Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.

These former leaders of the free world tended to favor British pals, a natural inclination, considering the language, history, and geopolitics of their times. But that's what makes this budding friendship so unusual. It's bringing attention to a completely different part of the world - a part that has suffered from US neglect, and even condescension, in the past.

"It is rather unprecedented that a president meet a Mexican president three times in the course of three months, but I think it's something of a sign of things to come," says a US official who has watched the leaders practice their Texas two-step. "It reflects a personal bond, but also extends beyond that to an evolving relationship that has tremendous potential for greater depth, greater cooperation," he says.

Early-to-bed, early-to-rise men, the two share similar styles. They are both plain speakers. (When President Bush visited the Fox ranch in February, for instance, he openly gave the thumbs-down to broccoli when asked by a reporter about his least favorite vegetable. Broccoli is a big crop at Mr. Fox's place.) They also both favor informality - though they'll get a hefty dose of trumpets and fanfare when Fox makes a state visit to Washington, the first on Mr. Bush's calendar, this fall.

The stiff formality of the Oval Office has led many American presidents to invite foreign counterparts to the woodsy cabins at Camp David, to their homes - or to favorite restaurants.

Bill Clinton and Helmut Kohl loved to share stories over stuffed ravioli, hot-and-cold antipasti, and fried calamari at Filomena's, an Italian restaurant in Washington's Georgetown neighborhood.

"Kohl's a marvelous, engaging bear of a man and a wonderful storyteller," says former national security adviser Sandy Berger, who joined the two leaders in the restaurant's back room. "The two had a very warm relationship."

The informality can go a little far. Churchill had a habit of walking through the White House family quarters late at night in the buff - a bit disconcerting to the lady of the house, Eleanor Roosevelt. …