On Friday, May 15, with much fanfare and import, the State Department sent a "high-level delegation" to persuade Pakistan not to explode a nuclear bomb. So much for American persuasiveness.

Perhaps there was nothing we could have done. But after India exploded its bomb, President Clinton tried to muster international pressure on India in order to assuage Pakistan and keep it from responding in kind.What happened? At the G-8 summit in London, Clinton struck out. He asked the other leading powers to join him in sanctions against India. His G-8 friends smiled politely and issued a statement distinguished in its feebleness. It was no surprise, given that this president is all entreaty and no enforcement.

After all, at the very same summit he caved on the issue of sanctions against Iran. And Iran is a really bad actor; India, after all, does not celebrate "Death to America Day." Yet in London, Clinton agreed to forgo sanctions against three oil companies (Russian, French and Malaysian) for concluding a huge natural gas development deal with Iran. He also weakened the Cuban boycott in deference to the Europeans, who find Castro more entertaining and/or admirable than we do.

After Clinton's humiliation on sanctions, Pakistan's response was foreordained. The Pakistani leadership had to decide which offered better protection against India's nuclear arsenal: words of assurance from Strobe Talbott or its own nuclear deterrent.

Clinton's subsequent criticism of Pakistan showed why the choice was obvious: "By failing to exercise restraint and responding to the Indian test, Pakistan lost a truly priceless opportunity to . . . improve its political standing in the eyes of the world." What is Pakistan to make of such patent nonsense? That nuclear vulnerability represented a "priceless opportunity" to look good? In the eyes of whom? Bill Clinton? India?

Clinton really does live in a fantasy world very much a reflection of his own political experience. In that world, courting favor with others trumps everything. But in the real world inhabited by Pakistan, a nation bordered by a hostile, populous, heavily armed neighbor, popularity simply doesn't rate compared with national security.

Clinton is guilty of more than mere fatuousness, however, in dealing with the India-Pakistan nuclear arms race. He is guilty of fueling it. While for years his administration has claimed deep concern about proliferation, Clinton has shamelessly courted the world's worst proliferator of weapons of mass destruction: China.

China purveyed nuclear power to Algeria, poison gas to Iran and, most ominously, nuclear technology to Pakistan. We winked. Why? Because not since Calvin Coolidge has an American administration lived more by the credo that the business of America is business.

Clinton's China policy is born of a combination of diplomatic myopia and political cynicism. The single most important consideration has been the promotion of trade and exports. Rather than seeing China as a potential rival, a rising superpower, a notorious proliferator and a potential destabilizer, Clinton sees nothing more than a market. For Clinton, it's the economy, stupid - always.

This view, as with all of Clinton's views, dovetails perfectly with his political needs. The Chinese market became a giant prize to be auctioned off to the highest bidder with proceeds going to the Democratic National Committee. Clinton contracted out China policy to Ron Brown, who in turn sold it in pieces to various political and financial supporters. Coveted seats on his trade missions to China and everywhere else went to big Democratic contributors like Bernard Schwartz of Loral Corp.

And when the Justice Department objected to Loral's satellite launches in China, Clinton himself overrode it. The fact that Schwartz was the Democratic National Committee's No. 1 contributor in the 1995-1996 election cycle (more than $600,000) is, of course, but a fortunate coincidence.

Clinton's China grovel will be most spectacularly dramatized by his upcoming visit to Tiananmen Square later this month. But it was heralded much earlier when on April 29 Secretary of State Albright spoke with satisfaction of the "strategic partnership" the United States was building with China.

There is nothing quite like a U.S.-China strategic partnership to put the fear of God into India. This is not to say that there were no domestic reasons for India and then Pakistan to go nuclear. But to the extent that Clinton has a foreign policy - apart from a trade and political contribution policy - it was blind to the implications of its open embrace of China. We are now reaping the consequences, even as Clinton scratches his head trying to figure out why bad things happen to good people.