Sunday :: Nov 16, 2003

Tony Blair's Difficult Week


by Steve

As the road show that is the Bush White House readies for a trip to Great Britain that will do more damage to Tony Blair than he imagines, read this story from tomorrow’s Telegraph and see what the White House is putting 10 Downing Street and Buckingham Palace through for the privilege of a Bush visit.

The Bushes should be staying on the ground floor of the Palace, in the Belgian suite, close to the indoor pool. The last time Mr. Bush dined with the Queen - in 1992 at his father's White House, wearing cowboy boots emblazoned with God Save the Queen - he asked if she had any black sheep in her family.

"Don't answer that!" his mother, Barbara, interjected, trying to avoid embarrassment. This time he's the President, the man in charge. The dynamics could be significantly different.

Security, however, is the obsession. As the anti-war protesters prepare to fill Trafalgar Square with unflattering images of the "cowboy" President and the Downing Street "poodle", mild panic has set in behind the scenes.

At Buckingham Palace there is bewilderment and some resentment at the sheer scale of American security requests for the duration of Mr. Bush's stay. The Palace knows how to do state visits. But there has never been one quite like this before.

"They wanted blast- and bullet-proofed windows," one senior courtier told the Telegraph. "They wanted strengthened curtains and strengthening to the walls of the President's suite and the other rooms that he would be spending time in during his two-day stay."

The proposal, which would have meant substantial building alterations, was firmly turned down by the Queen. But anxiety levels among the Bush security team continue to grow.

"The Queen will not have to wear a security badge. I think we know what she looks like," said one Palace official. "But it is getting to that level. It is quite ridiculous."

"The President's men seem obsessed with the idea of an airborne attack on the Palace," said another courtier. "Her Majesty takes the view that no amount of strengthening of windows and walls could protect the President in such an eventuality. Other political leaders have stayed at the Palace at difficult times in their careers but have not made such demands."

And after this trip is over, it appears that Blair will get his ass kicked by the Queen.

The deteriorating relationship between the Palace and the President's security men has infuriated the Queen. When it is all over, a mighty row with the Prime Minister is on the cards.

"The Queen is annoyed to be the one having to turn down so many of the White House's requests," said a Buckingham Palace official. "Downing Street's attitude is that this is something that should be resolved between the Palace and the White House. But the fact is that the Queen is being left to negotiate a political minefield pretty much on her own.

"Officially, the invitation was made to the President in her name, but of course ultimately this came from Tony Blair. Now that it is looking as if the visit is not going to be a cakewalk, Blair is, predictably, trying to distance himself from the whole thing," said the official.

And Blair was left out of the loop again in Bush’s efforts to cut and run before the November 2004 elections, it appears.

According to one Downing Street official, the Bush administration's desire to accelerate the timetable for the transfer of sovereignty to a provisional Iraqi government has startled and worried members of the Blair team.

On Friday, following his emergency trip back to Washington last Tuesday, Paul Bremer, the US envoy to Iraq, talked of a handover of power to Iraqis by next summer. No British representative attended the crucial White House meeting with President Bush, at which the new approach was endorsed. Having been caricatured as the President's bag-carrier leading up to war, Mr. Blair cannot afford to lose a grip of the peace.

"The bulk of the discussions will be on how far and how fast to go in Iraq," said an official familiar with pre-visit discussions in Downing Street. "There's a worry that because the presidential election year is coming up, some members of the Bush team might be in too much of a rush to disengage."

No matter how bad of a week you have coming up, I would be willing to wager that Tony Blair’s week will be worse.

Well, at least Bush isn’t insisting on standing ovations wherever he goes, like he did last time, right?

Steve :: 5:53 PM :: Comments (16) :: Digg It!