On Friday, President Bush concluded a four-day state visit to Britain that brought his relationship with Tony Blair into high relief for the British press and public. Bush—and a massive security detail—made a series of appearances around London and in Blair’s parliamentary constituency, despite demonstrations by thousands of protestors. (For more on the London demonstrations, see this Slate “Dispatch.”) Against the stark backdrop of Thursday’s Istanbul bombings, the two announced their intention to redouble their efforts in the war on terror.
British commentators got all verklempt as they watched Blair roll out the red carpet for his U.S. friend. An op-ed in last Sunday’s Observer anticipated Bush’s visit by exploring just how deeply the American and British leaders are dependent upon one another. Just as Blair’s political future depends on getting results in Iraq, Bush “needs to show he still enjoys the maximalist support of the Prime Minister” as his popularity fades at home. The Observer also took sides on the major point of contention surrounding the visit—who stood to gain more. Arguing that Bush strategists are trying to emulate Ronald Reagan’s 1984 visit to Britain (including photo-ops with the Queen), it noted, “For the people of a proud republic, many Americans have a curious awe of Britain’s monarchy.”
An op-ed in the Sunday Telegraph took the opposite stance, arguing that “[t]he political stakes for Mr Bush in all this are, frankly, marginal. … Nobody in Washington is saying: It’s the monarchy, stupid.” The piece also cast aspersions on Bush’s endorsement of Tony Blair as “plenty independent,” noting snidely that the Texan compliment “sounds like the name of a Bond girl, rather than the description of an honourable character trait.” However, the piece went on to laud Blair for standing by Bush, acknowledging the prime minister’s political gamble in welcoming such an unpopular figure.
Many other pieces approached the Bush visit in the light of the deteriorating situation in Iraq and the recent bombings in Turkey. An op-ed in the Financial Times noted with disdain that “[t]he protesters and the politicians alike are so damn certain that they have the answer.” While “al Qaeda’s latest killing spree made life rather easier for Mr. Blair and Mr. Bush,” the two leaders could not entirely avoid criticism over Iraq. Noting the “paradox of American power—invincibility matched by an acute sense of vulnerability,” the article worried that Bush and Blair still seem “perilously distant from a coherent response.” In the end, though, the piece expressed hope that the two leaders might pull together, work out a better solution for Iraq, resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and usher in a “new international settlement.” An op-ed in the Guardian was more despondent about the international situation, arguing that the Blair team’s “sense of drift is yet more collateral damage from the Iraq war which seems to sap too much energy and strength from the government.”
World peace aside, Bush’s visit was fraught with more immediate security concerns, particularly after an embarrassing incident where a Daily Mirrorreporter landed a job at Buckingham Palace using false credentials (see the Mirror’s self-congratulatory press roundup on the incident here). The Guardian responded with its own take on palace security:
The very next day a shifty-looking man called George Bush attempted to get into Buckingham Palace, claiming that he was the president of the United States. A few checks and legal inquiries quickly revealed that this man, who has a history of unstable and dangerous behaviour, is not the rightful president at all but an impostor who lied and cheated his way into the job.