In Britain, several newspapers presented Tony Blair’s grueling world tour as a chance for the prime minister to escape conflict at home for adulation abroad. An editorial cartoon in the Daily Telegraph showed Blair boarding a plane in Britain looking bedraggled and weary, and emerging shiny and statesmanlike when the jet touched down in the United States. An op-ed in the London Times declared the prime minister’s itinerary “a prospect to make any sensible person weep”—Washington on Thursday, Tokyo Friday, Seoul and Beijing Sunday, Shanghai and Hong Kong Tuesday, back to London on Thursday. “It sounds like an endurance test and I cannot help wondering why a father of four, who recently turned 50, would contemplate putting himself through such an ordeal.” The Independent was more understanding: By moving on to Asia after his brief stop in the United States, Blair is saying the “relationship with Washington and with George Bush … is not exclusive. Nor is it the master-poodle relationship for which he has been pilloried at home. It is one of many significant relationships around the globe.”
The Toronto Globe and Mail’s European correspondent focused on Blair’s slide from the hero of Baghdad to “just another politician who will say anything to get his way, even if it’s not exactly the truth.” The prime minister’s closeness with President Bush is a political liability in Britain—where it counts—so Blair’s six-hour stop in Washington was appropriately brief. Alan Freeman said the PM would be relieved to leave D.C. and head for Asia, “where he can dip his toes in less controversial issues. Like North Korea.” The Times also identified a British backlash against Blair’s special relationship with the U.S. administration: “American esteem is not a saleable commodity at home just at present, and declarations by President Bush that the two men have a shared vision of the global challenges to democratic freedoms, however well-founded, are a little embarrassing in a country that sups on anti-American sentiment.”
The Daily Mirror, a paper that has long supported Blair’s Labor Party but which broke with the prime minister over the Iraq war, declared, “If Weapons of Mass Destruction are not found soon in Iraq then no amount of hero worship in America may be enough to save Mr Blair back home.” Noting the rapturous reception Blair received in the U.S. Congress, the Mirror sneered, “What a change it must have made to all the aggro he’s getting back home. But forgive us if we don’t share the ecstatic joy of our American friends.” The Telegraph dismissed the critics: “[I]f Mr Bush is Mr Blair’s worst problem, that is a pretty satisfactory state of affairs. Most nations would rightly give their eye-teeth to be so close to such a benevolent superpower.”
The Times of London pointed out that there were two audiences for British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s address to Congress Thursday: “Americans who see in him a praiseworthy exception to what they see as the pusillanimous refusal of Europe … to face up to the threat of Saddam Hussein; and Europeans, including many Britons, who see his solidarity with Mr Bush as subservience and his hopes of influencing US actions as delusion.” Apparently, the former was more impressed than the latter.
The further a kilt is seen from Scotland, the warmer its reception. At home, it is often shunned as a trite Victorian invention; in St Etienne its bearers are treated like heroes. In Mexico and Australia, the reception can be positively raucous.
The same formula seems to hold true for British prime ministers. In London, Tony Blair is a liar-under-fire—viewed as a liability by his party and with increasing suspicion by his voters. Abroad, he is lionised as a statesman extraordinaire, on a par with Winston Churchill.