December 1, 2003

December 1, 2003 | Commentary on Middle East

Two's company

British Prime Minister Tony Blair seems determined to attempt the difficult feat of dancing at two weddings at the same time. 

No sooner had President Bush left British soil after last week's state visit to London than French President Jacques Chirac showed up on the doorstep of Number 10 Downing Street. Mr. Chirac brought with him a gaggle of French cabinet ministers for what the Guardian newspaper called "a post-Iraq kiss-and-make-up session with Tony Blair and colleagues." Yikes. 

Mr. Blair's strategy is - as hinted above - that he wants to have it all. This week, he was even a cartoon character on the Fox network cartoon show "The Simpsons." He tries to be the leader of both an Atlantic power and a European one at once. Mr. Blair nurtures the relationship with the United States to enhance the standing of Britain in the world, and is a valued ally. Yet, he also carefully keeps the Germans and the French in the picture to give Britain a voice in European integration. 

Even so, from an American point of view, last week's state visit was a positive event. Indeed, good impressions preceded Mr. Bush in the shape of a poll by the Guardian, which revealed that 62 percent of British voters believe that the United States is "generally speaking a force for good, not evil, in the world." Fortunately, only 15 percent hold the bizarre view that America is an "evil empire." 

During his four-day visit to Britain, Mr. Bush made his case for our presence in Iraq to our most important allies, and he had a chance to dispel the ridiculous notion prevailing in elite circles in Europe that he's a dummy because he hails from Texas. (Much the same people believed that Ronald Reagan was a dummy, too, because he hailed from Hollywood.) 

In fact, Mr. Bush's speech last Wednesday at the Banqueting House in Whitehall was one of the finest he's ever given. It was the third pillar in a trio of speeches on democracy in the Middle East recently given by Mr. Bush. (The first speech was delivered at the 20th anniversary celebration of the National Endowment for Democracy; the second was at the Heritage Foundation two weeks ago.) 

Like Mr. Reagan speaking before the House of Commons in 1982, Mr. Bush emphasized democracy and freedom. And in a highly eloquent opening section, he stressed how much British and Americans have in common, making the philosophical, historical and cultural case for the "special relationship." "There remains a bit of England in every American. So much of our national character comes from you and we are glad for it," he said. It was good to hear an American president recognize the importance of this heritage. 

Mr. Bush's call for improving the standing of democracy in the Middle East can hardly be faulted, but it is probably doubtful whether his challenge to Europe to drop its tireless support of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat will have much effect. Mr. Bush also challenged Europeans to wake up from their sleeping beauty state to recognize that the peace and prosperity of Europe and the United States is not the norm in the world, but the exception, and therefore must be defended. This message goes entirely against the grain of much of Western Europe.

Yet, this very message was reinforced on the third day of the state visit by the horrendous suicide bombings against British targets in Istanbul. More than 25 people were killed, including the British consul general, and more than 400 were wounded. The bombings somewhat took the wind out of the sails of the demonstrators, and they gave Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair the occasion for a joint statement showing resolve in the face of terrorist attacks.

Now, the Daily Mirror did report that the queen is fed up because Mr. Bush's staff messed up her lawn at Buckingham Palace with his helicopter pad, and the Secret Service frightened her flamingos. But overall, the president and the British prime minister must be relieved that the visit went so well.

Some might wonder what the White House now thinks of the Anglo-French meeting that followed this week, so soon after all the words of friendship and solidarity exchanged between Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair. What kind of "special relationship" is it if Mr. Blair spreads his favors so liberally? But perhaps Mr. Bush ought to take a lesson here, and work to cultivate special relationships throughout Europe to enhance American options. The president is good at personal diplomacy; it would be good to see more of it.

Helle Dale is Deputy Director of The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Helle C. Dale Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

Related Issues: Middle East

First appeared in The Washington Times