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God Save the President
It seemed like a swell idea at the time. President George W. Bush’s pageantry-filled Nov. 19 to Nov. 21 state visit to Britain was planned long before the war in Iraq—and the U.N. nastiness that preceded it. Since then the political ground under both Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair has shifted dramatically. Bush is no longer untouchable, and Blair has been badly damaged by the ongoing mess in Iraq and his “poodle” closeness to Bush. Add to that a huge antiwar protest planned —not to mention a fresh tabloid scandal concerning Prince Charles’s personal life—and a Bush visit to Britain is looking less fortuitous every day.
Bush and Blair will put the best possible face on the visit. Right now what Blair needs to do is distance himself from Bush, not hug him close. Many of Blair’s Labour backbenchers would like him to pick a fight with Bush. Others are urging him to push aside the president and rekindle ties with Blair’s natural political allies in America: the Democrats. That’s not Blair’s style, but it’s “no accident,” as one Labour minister put it, that Bush is not expected to make a formal address to Parliament.
Bush stands a better chance of capitalizing on the visit. The TV pictures beamed back to America are likely to paint him in exactly the sort of serious-world-leader hues his handlers are hoping for as he heads into an election year. Still, there are two storms brewing. Antiwar demonstrations could attract protesters in very large numbers. And the accident-prone British royal family could provide Bush with some unexpected embarrassments. Last week, amid rumors that a British tabloid was prepared to air a former royal servant’s salacious allegations against a “senior royal,” Charles’s private secretary issued an unprecedented statement from Buckingham Palace: a denial of an allegation (which he wouldn’t describe) that Charles was involved in a presumably compromising “incident” (which “did not take place”).
It’s hard to say whether this scandal manque has legs. Until last week, the gossip among royal courtiers centered on Queen Elizabeth II’s disappointment that, for security reasons, the White House wouldn’t allow Bush to accompany her on the traditional horse-drawn carriage ride. If the charges stick to Charles, the besieged royal family could be forgiven for wanting to join Bush in the safe confines of his bulletproof limo.
—Stryker Mcguire and Liat Radcliffe