The Blair Bush Project

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, June 7, 2005; 12:29 PM

President Bush's most loyal and long-suffering ally comes calling today. Badly battered in his last election due to his unwavering support for Bush and the Iraq war, Prime Minister Tony Blair is hoping for a little payback.

Blair has newly staked his reputation in advancing a modern Marshall Plan for Africa, which calls for industrialized countries to massively increase aid and write off many debts.

He is also hoping to rally the heads of the G8 countries to fight global warming when they gather in Scotland in July.

But to accomplish his goals, Blair needs to work Bush off of his previously expressed resistance on both those counts -- and that's highly improbable.

Bush and Blair will appear in a joint press conference this afternoon at 4:45 p.m. EDT. Don't expect much of the underlying tension to be apparent, however, as both leaders will likely praise each other to the skies and make a big fuss over Blair's consolation prize: A U.S. commitment to providing $674 million for famine relief in Africa, cobbled together from already-approved appropriations.

At their last joint press conference, in November , a reporter asked Bush: "The Prime Minister is sometimes, perhaps unfairly, characterized in Britain as your 'poodle.' I was wondering if that's the way you may see your relationship?"

Blair jumped in: "Don't answer 'yes' to that question. If you do, I would be -- (laughter.) That would be difficult."

The fitting follow-up question today would be: "Mr. Blair: Are you getting the reward you think you deserve? Or are you just getting scraps?"

Another Opportune Question

Richard W. Stevenson writes in the New York Times: "The meeting between Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair will cover a broad array of topics, including Iraq. The leaders are expected to reiterate their commitment to bring stability to Iraq in the face of pressures in both of their countries to begin bringing troops home, officials said.

"It will be the first meeting between them since the disclosure last month of a memo written by a foreign policy aide to Mr. Blair in 2002 that reported, based on a visit to Washington by a top British intelligence official, that the White House was fixing its 'intelligence and facts' about the threat from Saddam Hussein 'around the policy' of removing him from power through military action."

One issue that Bush -- and Blair -- should be questioned about is the Downing Street Memo in which the head of Britain's MI6 intelligence agency asserted that the White House was already set on invading Iraq in July 2002. See my May 17 column for the background.

Any reporter asking about the memo could make an easy grand, being offered by a group of liberal Web activists.

Bush has been asked often about the faulty intelligence used by the administration in making a case for the Iraq war, but he has not been questioned about this memo or how an ally as close as Britain could have come to a conclusion that the administration was "fixing" the intelligence toward supporting a war effort.

See the "Memo Watch" item in my May 24 column to see how spokesman Scott McClellan dodged just that question when it was put to him by a blogger.

James S. Robbins writes in the National Review Online that the memo is mostly old news. "It is sad when hearsay thrice-removed raises this kind of ruckus, especially since a version had been reported three years ago."

Walking Wounded

When it comes to rewarding Blair, of course, one thing to keep in mind is that maybe Bush isn't exactly in a position to be generous.

Kenneth R. Bazinet writes in the New York Daily News: "President Bush hosts British Prime Minister Tony Blair today for what amounts to a summit of the walking wounded, as both leaders suffer from declining popularity and languishing agendas."

An in fact, this morning's sneak peak at a Washington Post-ABC News poll is full of grim portents for Bush.

Richard Morin writes for washingtonpost.com: "A clear majority of Americans say President Bush is ignoring the public's concerns and instead has become distracted by issues that most people say they care little about, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

"The survey found that 58 percent of those interviewed said Bush is concentrating mainly in his second term on problems and partisan squabbles that these respondents said were unimportant to them. Four in 10 -- 41 percent -- said the president was focused on important problems -- a double-digit drop from three years ago. . . .

"Overall, the president's job approval rating stood at 48 percent, virtually identical to where it was last month. Currently 52 percent of the public disapproves of the job Bush is doing as president, the first time in his presidency that more than half of the public has expressed negative views of the president's performance."

Today's Meeting

Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush plans to announce today that he will steer $674 million in additional U.S. humanitarian relief to Africa, a move timed as a gesture to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, his close ally, who has unsuccessfully pushed the president to embrace a far more expansive African aid package. . . .

"But if Blair hoped for a greater payback, Bush has indicated that he will not go along."

John Daniszewski writes in the Los Angeles Times: "When Prime Minister Tony Blair meets with President Bush today, he might feel justified in posing this question: What does faithful support through two difficult wars earn a loyal ally who is looking for help for the world's neediest continent? . . .

"Improving the lives of sub-Saharan Africans would be a desirable legacy after taking a beating from Britons who accused him of blind loyalty to Bush, largely because of his support for the Iraq war. . . .

"Blair has urged that the G-8 members work toward giving 0.7% of their gross national product in foreign aid. Developed countries now average 0.24%. . . . The U.S. gives 0.16%."

William Douglas writes for Knight Ridder Newspapers that "no leader is so closely aligned with Washington as Blair, whom some in Europe dismissively call Bush's 'poodle.'

"Blair's proposal on aid for Africa is an effort to stand on his own and regain the stature he had before the Iraq war."

In an interview yesterday, Blair tried to diminish expectations but exude optimism all at the same time.

Ben Hall and James Blitz write in the Financial Times: "Tony Blair has given up trying to persuade the Bush administration to back Gordon Brown's scheme to double aid to Africa by tapping the capital markets.

"The prime minister said the chancellor's idea for an international finance facility, allowing governments to spend future aid money now, was one of 'certain things we know they are not going to do, that we are not asking them to do'. . . .

"However, Mr Blair is still hoping for a breakthrough on climate change under Britain's G8 presidency and will use his first in-depth discussion on the subject with President George W. Bush today to urge further US action.

"Talking to the Financial Times as he prepared to fly to Washington, Mr Blair conceded he had been 'very ambitious' to seek an international consensus on climate change given the US rejection of limits to its greenhouse gas emissions. But Mr Blair believes there is more common ground between Americans and Europeans than there appears."

Beth Gardiner writes for the Associated Press, however, that the global warming issue -- even more than African aid -- may strain relations between the two leaders. "The president opposes the Kyoto Protocol, and his administration questions scientists' views that man-made pollutants are causing temperatures to rise."

CNN reports on some possibly unhelpful comments coming from Blair's finance minister, Gordon Brown, who is not only the champion of the African aid plan, but Blair's sometimes rival and likely successor.

"This is not a time for timidity, nor is it a time to fear reaching too high," Brown said last week.

At the OAS

According to his press schedule, Bush had 50 minutes to deliver his speech yesterday to the Organization of American States meeting in Ft. Lauderdale. He wrapped it up in 13.

Michael A. Fletcher and Glenn Kessler write in The Washington Post: "President Bush on Monday urged nations of the Western Hemisphere to strengthen their democracies by embracing free-market economies and cracking down on corruption, while pointedly predicting that Cuba will ultimately be swept up in the tide of liberty that has engulfed other countries in the hemisphere. . . .

"Bush's 13-minute speech also had some thinly veiled words for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a close ally of Castro who has become a hero in parts of Latin America by casting the United States as an imperialist power and who has stoked U.S. ire by nationalizing some businesses and stifling political dissent.

"Bush said countries of the OAS have a stark choice between two competing visions: one that includes representative government, integration into world markets and a faith in freedom, and another that seeks to roll back democratic progress by 'playing to fear, pitting neighbor against neighbor and blaming others for their own failures to provide for their people.' "

For those of you not keeping up, Fletcher and Kessler explain how "Bush administration policy toward Venezuela has sometimes contradicted its rhetoric on democracy."

Here's the text of Bush's speech.

The Watergate Effect

Peter Wallsten writes in the Los Angeles Times that "far more than Bush has publicly acknowledged, Watergate and its aftermath have exerted a strong influence on the policies and attitudes of the president and others now in the White House -- some of whom had front-row seats for the scandal as members of the Nixon and Ford administrations."

For instance: "Vice President Dick Cheney, who worked in the Nixon White House and served as chief of staff to President Ford, has spoken of using his current position to restore powers of the presidency that he believes were diminished as a result of Watergate and the Vietnam War. By withholding details of his energy task force meetings and advising Bush to aggressively take the reins of power after the contested 2000 election, Cheney has tried to rekindle a broad view of executive authority."

And Wallsten attempts to wring meaning from Bush's at-first-glance neutral response to the Deep Throat story.

"As the revealing of [W. Mark] Felt as Deep Throat became a kind of political Rorschach test -- with some liberals celebrating the FBI's former No. 2 official as a hero for spilling his secrets and some conservatives branding him a villain -- several people noted that President Bush's first public words on the matter drew attention to Felt's relations with the press."

" 'I'm looking forward to reading about it, reading about his relationship with the news media,' Bush said. . . .

"A White House spokesman, Trent Duffy, waved off interpretations of the president's mind-set as 'an academic exercise.' He declined to comment further."

Nominations Watch

David Rogers writes in the Wall Street Journal: "With President Bush poised for victory on two long-delayed appellate judgeships this week, Senate Democrats pressed the White House to show more flexibility in sharing information related to the stalled nomination of John Bolton to be United Nations ambassador.

"Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd, a critic of Mr. Bolton, proposed a compromise to end the stalemate over classified communications intercepts that Mr. Bolton had access to at the State Department. . . .

"At issue are the identities of American individuals and companies named in 10 intercepts. Critics contend that Mr. Bolton may have used the information to take reprisals against individuals named in the communications. Mr. Dodd is offering to narrow the field by proposing that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee be permitted to submit a list of names of concern to the panel."

Anti-Bolton blogger Steven C. Clemons thinks he knows one of the names that would likely be on that list.

Turkish Friction

Tracy Wilkinson and Sonni Efron write in the Los Angeles Times: "The prime minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, arrives here today for meetings with President Bush and other officials aimed at repairing relations seriously damaged by differences over the Iraq war and other issues. . . .

"The Bush administration is expected to press Erdogan to curb his government's ties with Syria and Iran and encourage him to move ahead with democratic reforms necessary for membership in the European Union. The Turkish leader is expected to demand that the U.S. crack down on Kurdish guerrillas staging attacks in Turkey from northern Iraq.

"Erdogan will visit with Bush at the White House for about an hour Wednesday; Turkish officials said the prime minister had requested a lunch, and saw the briefer schedule as something of a snub. A National Security Council official refused to comment on the schedule.

"Still, both sides emphasized the meeting as an important step in righting the troubled relationship."

Revenge of the Bushi

Paul Bond writes for the Hollywood Reporter: "Forget about whether 'Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith' contains vague attacks on the Bush administration -- there are plenty of less-nuanced examples of antagonism toward Republicans in mainstream movies.

"So says a new breed of politically conservative filmmakers who, tired of waiting for Hollywood executives to give 'em a break, are creating companies to make and distribute their Republican-friendly works."

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