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