November 22, 2003
'Special' U.S.-U.K ties questioned
Bush leaves England unpopular with many
By GEORGE E. CONDON
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
DARLINGTON, England – With a pub visit and a relaxed spot of tea, President Bush concluded his trip to England yesterday, far from the regal splendor of Buckingham Palace and the massive street protests that greeted him in London.
But even as he returned to Washington, questions lingered about the state of the much-vaunted "special relationship" between the United States and Britain.
As was evident from his visit here to Tony Blair's home, Bush's personal ties with the prime minister are superb.
But he left England as the most unpopular U.S. president with the English people since the Vietnam War.
Nine prior presidents have made 21 trips to England, but none had to contend with a question like the one put to Bush by a British reporter, who asked, "Why do they hate you, Mr. President? Why do they hate you in such numbers?"
Bush seemed taken aback at the suggestion that he was despised in the land of America's greatest ally.
"I don't know that they do," he said.
But the four-day visit, which concluded yesterday with a fish-and-chips and mushy-pea meal in northern England, left it clear that there remains a disconnect between this president's diplomacy and a large number of Europeans.
The trip had its successes, most notably in Bush's foreign policy speech Wednesday and his push for a "forward strategy" of spreading democracy.
But even after the speech and the pomp and glitter of events in Buckingham Palace, the gulf between Bush and so much of the Continent remains.
"A great anti-Bush psychosis has taken hold in England," said Alec Russell, a longtime observer of Anglo-American relations for The Daily Telegraph.
"It's not just that the Europeans disagree with Bush," said Joseph Cirincione, a foreign policy analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "They find him and his administration arrogant, bullying and insulting. It's very personal."
This does not mean, though, that Britain is ready to drop its "special relationship" with the United States, one that is epitomized by the close Bush-Blair alliance on Iraq.
"They want another president to restore that special relationship," said Cirincione. "They don't want to have a special relationship with this guy."
John C. Hulsman, an expert on Europe at the Davis Institute for International Policy Studies, said Bush's troubles here reflect the reality that the United States and Britain went to war with very different rationales.
Ousting Saddam Hussein was enough of a reason for many Americans to support the war. But here, the public was swayed almost entirely by the alleged threat posed to Britain from weapons of mass destruction.
"What sold in the U.K. was that we had an imminent threat," said Hulsman, noting polls that showed many Americans unfazed by the failure to find the weapons, while the British public is very bothered.
"It is an entirely different argument and not finding the weapons has put an immense pressure on the relationship," he said.
Additional pressure comes from Anglo-American friction over trade issues – specifically U.S. steel tariffs – and the detention of nine British nationals at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Neither matter was resolved on this trip, even though Bush acknowledged that Blair brought up the steel tariff three times during their talks.
Yesterday was not for heavy negotiating, though. It was a day for Blair to repay Bush with a hometown tour. The president had Blair at his Crawford, Texas, ranch in April 2002. Now, it was time for Blair to show off the town that has sent him to Parliament for 20 years.
That meant tea at Blair's home, followed by lunch at his favorite pub in Sedgefield, the Dun Cow Inn.
The Dun Cow was crowded for the day and Bush clearly enjoyed himself in the pub, with its slate floors and wood beams.
The two leaders ate fish and chips and mushy peas.
Bush no longer drinks alcohol but he jokingly reached for a tap handle, finally choosing a nonalcoholic lager.
As in London, there were protesters. But befitting a small town proud that its native son is prime minister, even some of the protest signs were polite. One proclaimed in large red letters: "Bush is not very nice."