This Monday night, two of the world’s chief political figures are going to bed as giddy as schoolgirls. Not unlike anticipation of Christmas, Tony Blair and our own George W. Bush are going to have visions jumping in their head, guaranteeing a night of restless sleep in anticipation of Bush’s arrival in Great Britain on Tuesday. Only I get the sneaking suspicion there’ll be no sugarplums here for my young friends.
For Bush, I imagine his sleepless snickers as he pictures himself dashing through the halls of Buckingham Palace surrounded by the bikini-clad cast of Benny Hill and snapping photos at all his favorite Morrissey landmarks. For Blair, I imagine his entire political career is starting to resemble that infamous dream where you get to school with no pants on. Facing a vehement landscape in Europe already, having played poodle to Bush’s Iraqi debacle, Blair knows he would do best to try to lead the voters away from the circus – a tough thing to do when the head clown is staying with the Queen.
Bush’s presidential visit to England will be the first since Regan paid his dues in 1982 and was arranged just after Sept. 11, a time when it was fashionable to pity America, well before Blair sent troops into the money pit of Iraq. Blair and Bush have been uniquely linked since Blair took a stand as Bush’s greatest ally in defending the invasion of Iraq. In Washington, he’s become somewhat of an icon, a hero to the Right. In England, however, his association with Bush has become a stain on his popularity. As his public opinion sours due in part to a lack of evidence of deadly weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and a growing English casualty list, opponents of his Labor Party are gearing up to take full advantage of the turmoil Bush’s visit is bound to offer. I have complete confidence, however, that Blair’s savvy political instincts could find a way to spin this to his advantage, if he wasn’t already spending so much time trying to keep the protestors away from Bush, not to mention Bush away from, well, everyone.
There are still certain aggravations between the two countries, concerning Britons being held in Guantanamo Bay and Afghanistan, and the U.S. steel tariffs that were recently declared illegal. And since hecklers interrupted Bush’s speeches twice in Australia, officials seem anxious to keep him away from the Parliament. But Blair seems unfazed, stating that Bush’s visit couldn’t, “come at a better time,” apparently relieved at White House assurances that Bush will not refer to him as “my friend Hugh Grant” on his native soils.
According to European polls Bush is tied with Kim Jong II for the number-two position for greatest threat to world peace, and is considered by 37 percent of Britons to be, well, “stupid.” Protests are expected to bring tens of thousands of people from all over Europe, and intelligence shows a major threat of al-Qaida violence creating a daunting challenge for British security and prompting the christening of “Fortress London.”
But as always, Bush will be well protected, perhaps to his chagrin. The traditional horse-drawn carriage ride with Queen Elisabeth has been canceled, which surely is a definite blow to the man who lobbied for pony rides at his inauguration three years ago. The usually unarmed British Police have snipers and roadblocks throughout London and have canceled all leave until the president’s visit has passed. I imagine it must be hard to really get a feel for a city where 60 percent of its citizens polled don’t want you there.
Admittedly, Bush is used to the aggression both at home and abroad. He’s become used to drawing fire at home, from both protestors and disgruntled cabinet members, and his travels have spawned worldwide protests. But he readily owns up the fact that he is protected from the brunt of it. “I travel in somewhat of a bubble,” Bush said last week, prompting taunts of “Bubbleboy! Bubbleboy!” from what appeared to onlookers to be disgruntled Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dressed as a potted plant.
But Bush’s travels have a distinct upside, as well. Anything to draw attention away from Iraq is bound to improve his chances for re-election, and there is always the slim chance that a well-placed phrase here and there might help build up his image globally. Hey! I said slim chance. Besides, with Bush gone, maybe we can finally get some real work done in this country. Like changing all the locks on Capitol Hill.