With thousands of antiwar demonstrators marching in central London on Thursday, it appeared that the country had mobilized against President Bush's state visit. But, despite the angry protests, polls have been mixed on how Britons really feel about the American leader. Interviews with a sampling of Londoners also suggested a more nuanced view of Bush and of U.S. foreign policy in general.
"I don't see any problem with the visit," 27-year-old Andy Sharples said. "It's good for the leaders to talk. As far as Iraq goes, there's so much spin by politicians it's hard to know what's going on."
Sharples, a lawyer, said that he couldn't make a black-and-white call on the war because "I wasn't given all the information to make a fair decision on it."
"I don't believe it was all to please Bush or America, though it was one of the factors," he said, adding, "I would hope the Iraqis are better off now."
Questioned in the Hammersmith subway station in west London late Wednesday, Merry Graham said that although she believes both governments should have worked harder to avoid war, she thinks the Iraqis are better off now than they were under Saddam Hussein's regime.
I'm really disappointed with both Bush and Blair that they couldn't find a way to resolve it peacefully. I'm especially mad at Blair because he put so much effort into [establishing peace in] Northern Ireland. He was so patient, but with Iraq -- boom, deadline passed, go to war," Graham, a 45-year-old psychotherapist said.
"I think the Iraqis will be better off, but it will take time," she said.
Graham added that she believes that both Bush and Blair were completely convinced that they were "doing the right thing."
Claire Arnold, an 18-year-old student with a part-time retail job, said, "I believe their reasons for war were justified in the beginning: To get Saddam out and help the Iraqis. But, later as it progressed, it became about controlling the country."
Arnold, who has a cousin who fought in Iraq, added, "It's disturbing that people are still being killed. It's all gone against what Bush said. He made it sound as though it would be short and get out."
Britons' views on Bush and the war are complicated.
In addition to considering the welfare of the Iraqi people, the issue of weapons of mass destruction, the bypassing of the United Nations, and money and troops devoted to Iraq, they must weigh the importance of their "special relationship" with the United States.
Krishnan Ravindran, a retired airline pilot, said, "It was America who came to Britain's rescue right from World War I, through World War II, up to the Cold War. But, the alliance is a separate entity from Iraq. Personally, I feel Blair should have taken his own position instead of following Bush into a war that seems to have no end -- it's like another Vietnam."
Chioma, a 29 year-old graphic artist, said, "Because of Bush I think there'll be more terrorists around. Before Blair got into (the Iraq war), we were seen as the people in between the U.S. and Europe, friendly to the U.N., not alienating ourselves from other nations. But now we're seen more on par with the U.S.; Blair is seen as Bush's pal and ally."
Asked whether or not the Iraqis were better off now, she said, "Iraqis are in a very fragile place."
Asghar Ibrahim, a 27-year-old marketing associate for a bank, said he "never supported the war in Iraq because it is just killing innocent people."
But, Ibrahim said he believes that Bush's visit is good for Britain "I like Blair; we always support him," he said.
When asked how he reconciled his support for Blair despite the prime minister's decision to go to war in Iraq, he said, "He's just doing it for Bush."
Such mixed views could account for the disparities in recent polls taken in Britain.
According to a poll published this week in the left-leaning Guardian newspaper, more British voters welcome Bush's visit than reject it despite the media hype over the protests. Sixty-two percent of those polled for the Guardian also think America is "a force for good, not evil, in the world."
'War on terror invokes terror'
In contrast to the Guardian poll, a poll in the more conservative London Times taken just last week showed that 60 percent of British voters strongly disapprove of Bush's handling of Iraq. And a recent poll in the Daily Mirror found that half the country feels Bush is a threat to world peace rather than a help.
In fact, three out of four of those polled for the Daily Mirror feel the "war on terror" is actually making the world a more dangerous place, rather than a safer one.
Karen Elliott-Frey, 46, said that Bush acts as though terrorist attacks are a 21st century development, "but they're nothing new; we've had the Irish Republican Army, Guy Fawkes (who attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1601). They've been going on since the world began."
Elliot-Frey, a housewife, said that Bush's "playing world policeman is a dangerous game; the war on terror is invoking terror."
While waiting for a bus, Mary Okpungete, a former journalist originally from Nigeria, said, "The war was not good for the people of Iraq and it has made the world more dangerous. Everyone in Britain is more afraid of a terrorist attack now."
But, she said, "Bush should just apologize and say that he did wrong while trying to help out. Then, people would try to understand."
Sahbi Gossen, a 27 year-old construction worker originally from India, said he did not see any positive results from the war in Iraq.
"The situation in Iraq is very bad. It is not good for humanity. It did not help the Iraqi people at all because civilians were killed. Although Saddam was bad, the war was worse. But, I don't really care that Bush is here," he said.
Jeff Stevenson, 43, said, "I'm not overly happy with Bush's visit, primarily because of Iraq -- I don't think they should've gone to war. Also, because of the environmental things, not signing the Kyoto agreement. I think they've got a very tough right-wing government and I don't like them very much."
Stevenson, a social worker, added, "that's only the government we don't like, not the people."
British schools have organized their own anti-war groups and called on students to skip classes to attend protests this week.
And the nation's teens also hold strong views about the U.S. president, as evidenced by the opinions of two teenagers found relaxing outside a coffee shop after school on Wednesday.
Adam Burvill, 16, said, "I don't support Bush or the war, but I don't think it's very important that he's here. I'm not going to go to any protests. I just don't think it was right to send our soldiers out there and get them killed."
Alicia Mitchell, 15, said, "I think Saddam Hussein had to be gotten rid of. But, I can't say that I support any war because people die. I think (the war) was worth it though because now Iraq has the chance to rebuild itself."