War Leaders Bush and Blair Meet in Washington To Discuss Iraq, Iran, G8

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

The New York Sun

WASHINGTON – The “Bush and Blair show” has what may be its last outing on the Washington stage tonight as the two leaders make an hour-long joint appearance at the White House to talk up the new Iraqi government.

Aides on both sides said they would have discussions on Iraq, the stalled negotiations over Iran, and the increasingly fractious relationship with Moscow. But it is the political pathos of their meeting rather than the policies on their agenda that look set to dominate coverage of the summit.

Three years ago the two allies were global colossi after the fall of Baghdad. But last week they were dubbed the “axis of feeble” by one of their stoutest backers, the Economist magazine.

For President Bush their double act, carefully scheduled for prime time on the American networks, is a much-needed public relations fillip as he languishes in the political doldrums. Possibly only the winner of last night’s final of the television talent show “American Idol” would be a better bet to bolster the appeal of the president than that titan of the American heartland, Prime Minister Blair.

For the prime minister the domestic political benefits of the joint appearance in the East Room of the White House are less obvious. Conveniently, however, for those aides wary of fresh footage of the two together, the press conference is long after the deadlines of evening television news and British newspapers.

“This carries tremendous symbolic importance; it may be the last Bush-Blair Washington summit,” said Nile Gardiner, an expert on the “special relationship” at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. “It is very important for Bush with his poll ratings flagging. It is an opportunity for him to reassert his leadership on a range of issues – Iran, Iraq, and the war on terror.”

Mr. Bush’s support base has imploded in recent months, with even many conservative backers turning against him over a range of issues. His approval ratings are hovering in the low 30s, a level that in living memory only President Carter, President Nixon, and briefly his father, en route to electoral defeat, have endured. When Australia’s prime minister, John Howard, visited Washington last week, he was feted to an extraordinary degree.

After a weekend fishing trip with Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, he was joined by the president for a tree-planting ceremony at the Australian ambassador’s residence before a White House dinner in his honor two days later.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, given Mr. Bush’s unfavorable image in Britain and Mr. Blair’s own weakened position, there will be less fanfare over the next two days.

William Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard, an influential neoconservative magazine with close ties to the White House, cautioned, however, that it was a mistake to read too much into the “axis of feeble” tag.

“There is too much analysis of the p.r. side of the visit,” he said. “If you asked someone in the White House to list the things that could happen in the next two months that could change Bush’s ratings, no one would put the Blair visit in the top 10.

“It is the coordination on Iraq and Iran and the G8 summit [hosted by Russia in July] that is important,” he said.

The New York Sun

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