The Bush/Blair Washington Summit: Strengthening U.S.-British World Leadership

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The Bush/Blair Washington Summit: Strengthening U.S.-British World Leadership

November 10, 2004 9 min read

Authors: Nile Gardiner and John Hulsman

British Prime Minister Tony Blair will be the first foreign head of state to visit President George W. Bush following his re-election victory. The November 11 and 12 Washington summit between the world's two most powerful leaders will take place against the backdrop of a major U.S.-led offensive against insurgents in Fallujah and just two months ahead of national elections across Iraq. The security situation in Iraq will feature prominently in the talks, which will also cover the Middle East peace process and relations between the United States and Europe.


The summit will be an important opportunity to showcase to the world the strength of the Anglo-U.S. special relationship and the U.S.-British commitment to the establishment of a successful democracy in Iraq. It will also provide an opportunity for President Bush to present to his closest ally a bold, proactive vision for U.S. policy toward Europe.


The Key Issues


Fallujah and the Future of Iraq

The battle to retake the insurgent-held city of Fallujah is critically important for the future of Iraq. It is designed to ensure that the January elections planned for the country can proceed in a secure environment across all of the country, including the Sunni heartlands, resulting in a government legitimate in the eyes of all Iraqis. The offensive involves over ten thousand U.S. troops and several thousand Iraqi forces. The British Government is fully supporting the U.S. operation, but its decision to send 800 British soldiers to the Baghdad region in a support role has sparked political controversy in the U.K.[1]


While President Bush has a strong mandate from the American public for aggressive military action in Iraq, Prime Minister Blair faces mounting opposition within his own Labor Party to his Iraq policy, an uncomfortable position ahead of projected elections in Britain in May 2005. However, with more than 8,000 British troops on the ground in the country, there is little prospect of Blair giving in to his critics. The Washington summit is likely to reinforce the British commitment to a long-term role in Iraq. Both Bush and Blair have a huge stake in the future of Iraq, and both see the war as an integral part of the war on terror.


The Middle East

The British Prime Minister has pledged to make the Middle East peace process a "personal priority" in the coming months. He will visit Washington with the goal of encouraging the U.S. President to participate in a New Year conference in London aimed at bringing together Israeli and Palestinian leaders. As Britain will take over the EU presidency in July 2005, Blair is under intense pressure to push the Arab-Israeli conflict as a key issue and is keen to demonstrate his credentials as a peacemaker in the wake of the conflicts in Europe over the Iraq war. Blair has committed himself to just one more term in office if he wins the next general election and wants to be remembered as a key figure in an historic resolution of the Palestinian problem.


Blair's push for a greater U.S. role in the Middle East peace process is likely to gain some support in Washington, with a strong possibility that the President will travel to London.[2] The imminent passing of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat could result in a more moderate Palestinian leadership emerging, one with a greater openness to peaceful negotiation. However, the White House will take a lead role only when there is a firm commitment on the part of the Palestinians to cease the use of terror-a huge question mark, for the moment. Even if Arafat's successors prove to be pragmatic statesmen, they probably will be reluctant to re-engage in peaceful negotiation until they have consolidated their power.[3] In addition, the Arab-Israeli conflict is likely to remain a lesser priority for the Bush Administration than the war in Iraq and the war on terror. On Middle East issues, Blair could well come away from his White House meeting with an initial pledge of support for his initiatives but no firm commitments.


U.S.-European Relations[4]

As Blair's visit to Washington demonstrates, the Bush Administration is not universally hated in Europe, as many critics contend. The reality is far more complex. Europe remains deeply divided over U.S. foreign policy, especially the war in Iraq. While public opinion in many European countries is highly critical of the Bush Administration, President Bush has succeeded in securing the support of at least half of Europe's governments for his policies in Iraq and in the wider war on terror. Over 20 European countries have sent troops to Iraq, including 12 of the 25 members of the European Union. Sixteen of the 26 NATO member states are represented.[5]


There is little doubt, however, that the President's election victory was greeted with dismay in Paris, Berlin, and Madrid. President Bush will have to face the reality of the Franco-German-Spanish axis's continuing opposition to U.S. policies. In a clear rebuttal of Tony Blair's call for Europe to accept the reality of Bush's victory and "move on," French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero have pledged to redouble their efforts to advance political integration in Europe, in an effort to limit Britain's influence and construct a counter-weight to American power.[6] Chirac has called on Europe to "strengthen its dynamism and unity when faced with this great world power… we must reinforce Europe politically and economically and make sure European cohesion is seen as an international reality."[7]


The divide in Europe, and how both the United States and Britain can advance their common interests in Europe, will be a major issue of discussion at the Washington summit. President Bush will be looking for British support in strengthening the U.S. led-coalition in Iraq. Both leaders will be calling for a greater contribution by European countries toward Iraqi reconstruction, debt forgiveness, and security.


Key Recommendations



The U.S. and British leaders must remain steadfast in their determination to root out and crush insurgents in Fallujah and other Sunni-dominated cities around Baghdad. President Bush and Prime Minister Blair should emphatically reject the call by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to pull back from the offensive to retake Fallujah.[8] The message must be sent to the terrorists, many of whom are led by Al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, that there is no place in the political process for those who are committed to murder and barbarism. There is a fundamental difference between peaceful political dissent and acts of terror. Bush and Blair should also challenge European nations such as France and Germany to play a constructive role in building a democracy in Iraq, instead of sulking on the sidelines.


The Middle East

The White House should support Blair's initiative for a London summit and commit to attending. At the same time, the U.S. and British leaders should call for the new Palestinian leadership to make a firm commitment to ending terror, respecting the rights of Israel as a nation state, and supporting individual liberty and democracy. Unless there is a complete cessation of Palestinian terrorism, there is little prospect of successful Middle East peace negotiations.



President Bush should make clear his support for a multi-speed Europe, based on the principle of each individual state having greater choice about its level of integra­tion with Brussels. A Europe where national sover­eignty remains paramount regarding foreign and security policy and where states act flexibly rather than collectively will help America to engage Euro­pean states most successfully. He should express growing concern in Washington over the impact of the European Constitution and the effect it may have on limiting the freedom of Britain and other European allies to work alongside the United States. The President should give voice to U.S. concerns over French and German moves to advance further European Union integration in the sphere of foreign policy. At the same time, President Bush should make a firm commitment to undertaking a new effort at public diplomacy in Europe..




It is significant that it is the British Prime Minister, and not the leaders of Europe's other main powers, France and Germany, who has been invited to the White House.

Tony Blair's policy of standing shoulder to shoulder with his U.S. counterpart has given Britain a unique role in helping shape American policy in Iraq and the war on terror. While French President Jacques Chirac dreams of building a European superstate to balance American global power, U.S. and British policymakers are actively shaping the future of the world.


The U.S.-U.K. special relationship must remain a cor­nerstone of U.S. strategic thinking. The U.K. is likely to remain America's paramount ally for the foreseeable future. It is in Amer­ica's fundamental national interest to help the U.K. maintain both its sovereignty and its flexibility to continue playing this pivotal role. The U.K. is vital to American strategic interests, and the future direction that it takes in Europe will directly affect the United States.


Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., is Fellow in Anglo-American Security Policy, and John Hulsman, Ph.D., is Research Fellow in European Affairs, at the Heritage Foundation.

[1] See Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., "The British Iraq Troop Redeployment: Why It Is Necessary," Heritage Foundation WebMemo #595, October 26, 2004, at

[2] Andrew Sparrow and Patrick Bishop, " Bush Ready to Support Blair's Push for Peace in Mid-East," The Daily Telegraph, November 8, 2004.

[3] The authors are grateful to James Phillips, Heritage Foundation Research Fellow in Middle Eastern Affairs, for his insights on the Palestinian leadership.

[4] For an in-depth study of U.S. policy toward Europe and the direction it is moving, see John Hulsman, Ph.D., and Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., "A Conservative Vision for U.S. Policy Toward Europe," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 1803, October 4, 2004, at

[5] Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., "The Myth of U.S. Isolation: Why America Is Not Alone in the War on Terror," Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 558, September 7, 2004, at

[6] See Toby Helm and Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, " EU 'Triple Axis' Gangs Up on Blair," The Daily Telegraph, November 6, 2004.

[7] Quoted by David Gow, " Blair's Call to Accept Bush Scorned by Chirac," The Guardian, November 6, 2004.

[8] "Kofi Annan's Letter: Fallujah Warning," BBC News Online, November 6, 2004, at


Nile Gardiner
Nile Gardiner

Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow

John Hulsman

Former Senior Research Fellow