Bush los­ing key ally in Blair; Bri­tish prime min­is­ter steps down June 27

The Washington Times Weekly - - International Perspective - By Joseph Curl

Pres­i­dent Bush, an avowed fit­ness freak, has al­ways found the work­out rou­tine of Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Tony Blair a bit ef­fete.

When the two lead­ers hit the gym to­gether dur­ing Group of Eight sum­mits, the pres­i­dent pow­ered through sweat-soaked work­outs as the prime min­is­ter used light hand weights to stretch.

“Isn’t he cute?” Mr. Bush once said to a White House staffer as he watched Mr. Blair with his tiny weights.

But the two lead­ers have prac­ticed some mus­cu­lar diplo­macy on the war in Iraq, with the Bri­tish prime min­is­ter do­ing most of the heavy lift­ing — a fact Mr. Bush will be forced to face June 27 when Mr. Blair steps down af­ter 10 years in of­fice. The two lead­ers met at the White House on May 17 for what may be their last face-to-face sit­down be­fore Mr. Blair leaves of­fice.

“Blair was a far more ar­tic­u­late spokesman, not only for the war, but more for the re­sponse post9/11,” said Ivo Daalder, a se­nior fel­low in for­eign-pol­icy stud­ies at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion.

In their cou­pling, pol­i­tics did in­deed cre­ate strange bed­fel­lows: Mr. Blair, the ar­tic­u­late Ox­ford scholar who en­tered pol­i­tics at 30 and toiled in a left-of-cen­ter party ver­sus an of­ten-mar­ble-mouthed Texan who owned a base­ball team and par­tied un­til he was 40 be­fore as­sum­ing the man­tle of the con­ser­va­tive party (al­though the Texan did at­tend Yale and Har­vard).

Even stranger, Mr. Blair was equally at ease with fel­low Third Way ad­vo­cate Bill Clin­ton as he was with the my-way-or-the-high­way Mr. Bush — and some friends of the two say the Bri­tish prime min­is­ter ac­tu­ally prefers the cur­rent pres­i­dent be­cause he speaks his mind freely and keeps his word.

“It was sur­pris­ing to a lot of peo­ple, both be­cause of Blair’s pol­i­tics and his re­la­tion­ship with Clin- ton, but it turned out to be a very close per­sonal friend­ship,” said Char­lie Black, a Repub­li­can strate­gist with close ties to the White House.

“They’re both straight talk­ers. They gen­uinely like each other. They rec­og­nize in each other courage and a will­ing­ness to sac­ri­fice their own po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests for what they see is the good of their coun­tries — and the West­ern world,” Mr. Black said.

The two, though, saw eye to eye on the threat posed by Is­lamic rad­i­cal­ism, and have firmly stuck to their black-and-white world­view. Each has ex­hib­ited the same strain of moral clar­ity, find­ing the war against ex­trem­ism to be the call­ing of their gen­er­a­tion.

Mr. Blair tied his fu­ture to the United States af­ter Septem­ber 11, say­ing, “We were with you at the first; we will stay with you to the last.” Even as his rat­ing at home tum­bled, he re­mained stead­fast in his sup­port, and left Bri­tish troops in Iraq long af­ter the an­ti­war cry in Lon­don be­came pierc­ing.

He was, at times, de­rided as a “lap dog” and “poo­dle” of Mr. Bush — who once called him over to his ta­ble at a G-8 sum­mit with a ca­sual, “Yo, Blair.” Mr. Bush meant it as a friendly nee­dle; those in Bri­tain found it dis­taste­fully pa­tron­iz­ing.

With Mr. Blair’s de­par­ture next month, Mr. Bush will find him­self work­ing with a new Bri­tish prime min­is­ter, ex­pected to be Gor­don Brown. Mr. Bush two weeks ago ex­pressed op­ti­mism that he could work with Mr. Brown, whom he said “un­der­stands the con­se­quences of fail­ure” in Iraq.

Cur­rently Bri­tain’s trea­sury chief, Mr. Brown is less af­fa­ble and more in­tro­verted than Mr. Blair. The Scots­man has vowed a change in di­rec­tion on Iraq and does not want to be­come Mr. Bush’s lap dog.

“He doesn’t want to have the ‘poo­dle’ man­tle. He’d rather be a Scot­tish ter­rier,” said Regi­nald Dale, a Bri­tish se­nior fel­low in the Europe pro­gram at the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies. “Ter­ri­ers are loyal, but feisty and in­de­pen­dent.”

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