Should President Bush be honoured with a state visit


sunday herald
Should President Bush be honoured with a state visit
Sun Nov 16 14:44:08 2003
64.140.158.50

Should President Bush be honoured with a state visit at this time?
Response Votes
Yes 15%
No 85%

http://www.sundayherald.com/37707
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Blair’s dangerous friends need a loud and clear message


.WHAT WE THINK.


THERE is nothing new in reminding readers that Rupert Murdoch and George W Bush are two of Tony Blair’s friends. What is worth reflecting on is how and where these friendships are leading Blair. If the Prime Minister has been attentive to decent advice, he’ll have been adequately warned – as the playwright Brecht did in Mother Courage – “I don’t trust him, we are friends”. The relationship of Blair to Murdoch and Bush, despite the staged noises of fake warmth, Texan buddyness and antipodean camaraderie, has reeked of contractual convenience. Bush and Murdoch get what they want from their statesman pal. Bush believes some of his friend Tony’s international street cred rubs off on his lightweight credentials: Murdoch gets what he wants in any country, with any citizenship he chooses, against any regime in his way: he gets to do business assured that the wheels of whatever government he befriends are well oiled. Murdoch is a man who would become an Indian, German or Nigerian citizen tomorrow if that’s all it took to close a global deal.

Blair gets what all politicians really want – a big powerful friend, a person of substantial influence, a person who can magnify, on a larger stage, the achievements a politician wants targeted, namely his own. Blair has been ruthless in his choice of friends. Don’t ask what Tony can do for you, ask what you can do for Tony. Deliver for Tony or Tony will ignore you. During New Labour’s climb back to power, Blair’s friends were the media of the centre and soft left, the thinkers and opinion-formers who wanted an end to the Tory years. But on the advice of Alastair Campbell, Blair ignored them and instead courted, wooed and practically begged Murdoch to switch his Tory allegiance to New Labour. It was mould-breaking territory since Murdoch had spent a political generation mocking the Labour Party in the mass circulation pages of The Sun and the opinion-forming pages of The Times and Sunday Times. Murdoch has stuck with Blair, some would say, simply because Labour became the party in power and the party likely to stay there. For any global corporation such a strategy is to be expected: shareholders would question any other approach.

Now Murdoch is exacting a price for continued support for Blair. He is threatening to withdraw his media support unless Labour adopt the policies he backs. A friend in power is no longer enough for Murdoch: he wants a friend who will do it his way or else. This is contractual bullying in its most potent form and Blair would only improve his own standing if he told Murdoch, in the only language he understands, to bugger off and take his threats with him. But instead we learn that Number 10 is convulsed with anxiety at the very thought that they might have to fight the next election without The Sun on their side. It is as though they believe there is some core truth in the pathetic assertions of people like the former Sunday Times editor, Andrew Neil, who believe Labour fought elections throughout the 1980s and lost all of them simply because they didn’t have the backing of The Sun. If Blair and his advisers actually believe they must now court News International and do what Murdoch says, then they do not deserve to be in office. Policies, courage, political conviction and credibility win elections, not fear that The Sun may brand you a turnip.

Murdoch says he’s now worried over the “great dangers” of the controversial new European Constitution. Worried he says about the loss of “our” sovereignty. Now which “our” does he have in mind? Born an Australian, switching citizenship to the US for commercial reasons, married to a Chinese woman with influence over that territory, Murdoch has no right to be concerned about the “abdication of our sovereignty” nor to interfere with our sovereign political system. And it seems to have taken little or nothing for Murdoch to pronounce that Michael Howard’s new Conservative front-bench team have the making of an alternative government. But when it comes to global media magnates, and Murdoch is not alone here, rights do not really matter, what’s good for business comes first.

Now let’s turn to his other friend, George Bush. What is it about this friendship? Bill Clinton seemed a natural ally for Blair. The two seemed to click and their vision of the world seem shared. But Bush … what does Blair get out of Bush? While Blair appears to offer moral support to the suspect foreign policy of his neo-conservative right-wing cabal, Blair seems to get nothing in return. Bush has refused to move on the US’s view on everything from the International Criminal Court, to global environmental treaties which they continue to side-step, to allowing British steel into the US. Washington has denounced Blair’s initiatives on setting up a European defence force, and, on influencing peace in the Middle East, Blair has won only a lot of goodwill noise from the White House but with no sustainable action.

At any other time, a visit to this country by a US president would be a welcome gesture. And before we go any further, let us make it clear to readers that we are not anti-American, but we are certainly against the world-view of the neo- conservative Bush administration. Over the years we have built up a special relationship with the US; it is our closest ally and there is a long history of common cause to celebrate. But these are not normal times. When President George W Bush steps off Air Force One on Tuesday he comes not as a welcome guest but as a leader who has led his country and Britain into a war in Iraq which was not only overwhelmingly unpopular at the time and possibly illegal. He also comes while British troops are still fighting and being killed in Iraq. That is why millions of ordinary British people demonstrated against the invasion of Iraq earlier this year, and that is why they will be back on the streets in London and Edinburgh this week to make sure that Bush (and the US folks back home) hears British anger. As Bush reluctantly conceded – and Blair should heed these words – it’s called democracy. To Bush’s credit, he has admitted that he is unconcerned about the demonstrations as everyone has the right to disagree with government policies.

However, this is a visit which should never have been organised. Leaving aside the historical fact that it is a dubious honour – only one US president, Woodrow Wilson was so honoured while other more deserving presidents such as Roosevelt and Eisenhower were ignored – Bush is currently presiding over a failed policy in Iraq. Not only have the Americans and their British allies underestimated, underplanned and underthought what they were going to do with Iraq, but they have failed lamentably to produce a workable plan which guarantees the safety and future wellbeing of the people of Iraq.

While Bush is being given the full photo-opportunity with the Queen and Buckingham Place to boost next year’s election campaign (having already collected the Pope), US helicopter gunships are still firing missiles into Iraqi homes, and thousands of ordinary Iraqis are being subjected to arrest and interrogation. Against all the rules of Arab hospitality, their homes are being invaded and the women subjected to the indignity of having their quarters searched by soldiers.

Only a week ago, Bush was preaching the virtues of a greater pluralism for the Middle East and with it the dawning of a new democracy which would be protected by US military might. What has happened to that grand vision? Only a week later he has changed his tune to announce a new policy which can only be called scuttle and run. With an election year ahead of him, he wants to see an end to the body-bags, anything to do with Iraq off American TV screens, and the whole subject off the political agenda. Is that what this state visit is supposed to be celebrating?

And then there is Blair. He too is not exempt from blame over Iraq. Instead of pursuing an independent foreign policy, he too readily tied his coat tails to the White House and then he used faulty intelligence as evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. There are still too many unanswered questions and too much unresolved dissatisfaction for any kind of transatlantic celebration. So when the predicted chaos threatening to disrupt and spoil Bush’s royal party hits Britain’s streets this week, Blair should not look round for excuses. He can blame only himself – and the friends he chooses for company. And while he can choose his friends, the electorate retains the power to choose whether he remains in power. This week will be a defining moment for Blair, and the louder he hears the message the better.

16 November 2003
http://www.sundayherald.com/38031
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