A Gathering Storm: Bush Needs Blair Now More Than Ever, as Tension Grows over U.S. Iraq Policy
Wolffe, Richard, Mcguire, Stryker, Newsweek
Byline: Richard Wolffe and Stryker Mcguire
George W. Bush has a clear picture in mind of an ideal world leader and ally. Soon after his Inauguration, Bush asked the British Embassy in Washington for a bust of Winston Churchill. And when it came to staging his first meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush chose a humble wooden cabin called Holly at Camp David--the scene of talks between Churchill and Roosevelt as they planned the Allied invasion of Nazi-held Europe. "He really kind of went after it in a way that seemed like a Texan to me," Bush said of Churchill, as he promised to place the bronze bust under his favorite west Texas painting in the Oval Office. "He wasn't afraid of public-opinion polls. He charged ahead, and the world is better for it."
Since that first Camp David session with Blair, and particularly since September 11, Bush has repeatedly invoked the memory of Churchill. But now that Bush is charging ahead against Saddam Hussein, the British prime minister isn't acting quite like The Last Lion. While Bush says "time is running out on Saddam Hussein" and that he's "sick and tired of games and deception," Blair says he wants to give the U.N. weapons inspectors more "time and space" in Iraq. Bush thinks another U.N. resolution is unnecessary. Yet Blair wants U.N. approval before going to war in Iraq. British officials tell NEWSWEEK that Bush and Blair have not spoken since the New Year, even as tensions have steadily built with Iraq and North Korea.
So is the special relationship starting to fray? Look at the vastly different reaction to the discovery of 11 empty chemical warheads in Iraq. While the White House called the warheads "troubling and serious," British officials warned against any "rush to judgment." Other allies are even more reluctant to side with Bush. In Paris, President Jacques Chirac warned that only the U.N. Security Council had the authority to assess the inspectors' findings (and not the Americans on their own, he suggested). Meanwhile the Turkish government--a crucial staging post for military operations against Iraq--launched its own diplomatic offensive last week to avoid war. On a tour of Middle East capitals, Turkish officials pushed a Saudi plan to offer amnesty to Iraqi officials who might oust Saddam. In a world full of fair-weather friends, Bush needs Blair to stick to his guns.
All this puts Blair in an awkward--and highly visible--position. As U.S. troops flood into Kuwait, Blair is both an object of hope and a source of frustration. He is America's closest ally, but also the only leader judged to have the trust and standing with President Bush to slow (or even redirect) Washington's march toward war.
The two leaders will meet next week at --Camp David again, just four days after the United Nations hears the first major report by weapons inspectors on Iraq. While much of the talk is expected to focus on Iraq, senior British officials tell news-week that Blair will also deliver an uncomfortable message to Bush: you must do more in the Middle East to win Arab support. While the Bush administration has stepped up pressure on Saddam Hussein in recent months, it has also slowed down the diplomacy in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, supposedly waiting for Israeli elections next week. …