President Bush in Britain
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TOM BEARDEN: President Bush’s royal welcome this morning was full of pomp and pageantry, including a 41-gun salute and an elaborate military procession. Tight security around Buckingham Palace kept a few hundred protesters behind barriers outside the palace gates.
Organizers predicted tens of thousands of anti-war demonstrators would descend on London for tomorrow’s rally. They’ll march past Parliament and British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Downing Street office. Mr. Bush took note of the protesters outside during his major speech of the day to foreign affairs experts at Whitehall Palace.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I’ve been here only a short time, but I’ve noticed the tradition of free speech exercised with enthusiasm… (laughter ) …is alive and well here in London. We have that at home, too. They now have that right in Baghdad as well.
TOM BEARDEN: The president praised international institutions like the U.N. and NATO, which are popular in Europe. But he also drew stark comparisons between the security views of Europe and the U.S.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Because European countries now resolve differences through negotiation and consensus, there’s sometimes an assumption that the entire world functions in the same way. But let us never forget how Europe’s unity was achieved: By allied armies of liberation and NATO armies of defense. And let us never forget, beyond Europe’s borders, in a world where oppression and violence are very real, liberation is still a moral goal, and freedom and security still need defenders.
TOM BEARDEN: He acknowledged differences on Iraq, but defended the coalition’s goals there.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: There were good-faith disagreements in your country and mine over the course and timing of military action in Iraq. Whatever has come before, we now have only two options: To keep our word or to break our word. The failure of democracy in Iraq would throw its people back into misery and turn that country over to terrorists who wish to destroy us. Yet democracy will succeed in Iraq, because our will is firm, our word is good, and the Iraqi people will not surrender their freedom.
We did not charge hundreds of miles into the heart of Iraq and pay a bitter cost of casualties, and liberate 25 million people only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins. We will help the Iraqi people establish a peaceful and democratic country in the heart of the Middle East, and by doing so, we will defend our people from danger.
TOM BEARDEN: Mr. Bush reaffirmed his call for Middle East diplomacy and linked it to his support for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, and he coupled that with admonitions to the various parties involved in Mideast diplomacy.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We seek a viable, independent state for the Palestinian people, who have been betrayed by others for too long. We seek security and recognition for the state of Israel, which has lived in a shadow of random death for too long. Those who would lead a new Palestine should adopt peaceful means to achieve the rights of their people and create the reformed institutions of a stable democracy.
Israel should freeze settlement construction, dismantle unauthorized outposts, end the daily humiliation of the Palestinian people, and not prejudice final negotiations with the placements of walls and fences. Arab states should end incitement in their own media, cut off public and private funding for terrorism, and establish normal relations with Israel.
Leaders in Europe should withdraw all favor and support from any Palestinian ruler who fails his people and betrays their cause. And Europe’s leaders and all leaders should strongly oppose anti-Semitism, which poisons public debates over the future of the Middle East.
TOM BEARDEN: Later, the president met privately with families of British victims of the 9-11 attacks. Then he and the first lady attended a state banquet at Buckingham Palace.
JIM LEHRER: Now, some analysis of President Bush’s speech from three British perspectives: Julian Borger is the U.S. bureau chief for The Guardian, a major liberal newspaper in Britain. Christopher Makins is president of the Atlantic Council of the United States. He holds both U.S. and British citizenship. Robin Niblett is executive vice president and senior fellow of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Beginning with you, Robin Niblett, what do you believe matters most about what the president said in that speech today?
ROBIN NIBLETT: I think it was a message directed both at the audience back here, it was a message directed as well to Europe more broadly. It was an articulation for Europeans of America’s position towards the world. It’s been I think a particularly tough time for President Bush coming over, protests on the streets. He has to decide what subjects to emphasize the most. The one that he chose was the importance of international institutions.
Now that’s relevant from a U.K. point of view. They’ve put a lot of effort into the transatlantic relationship, a lot of effort into NATO and yet ultimately what he was doing was challenging Europe to come up with a more aggressive view towards its foreign policy, challenging it to think about international security and to take action and the use of force when necessary. So that was an important dimension.
The second most important dimension I think was thinking about the Middle East. It was noticeable how much he placed that at the center of his speech. I think British people would generally put Arab-Israeli peace at the center of their Middle East strategy. But for him it was the Middle East and democracy that he put first.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Makins, Mr. Niblett did not mention Iraq as one of the things. That was on all the wire stories back in the United States today, that was what…and we led our program tonight with what the president said about Iraq. What would you say matters the most?
CHRISTOPHER MAKINS: I think what the president was trying to do was to put the Iraq policy, the thing that has been such a great source of disagreement, into a much broader context of what U.S. strategy is in the world and particularly towards the whole area of the Middle East and the Gulf.
I think what he was trying to say is our policy is not simply a policy of war against Saddam Hussein or war against Iraq, it is a broad policy of trying to promote democracy, trying to promote development, trying to promote human rights to deal with a whole range of things which are very important to British, the British public and to European governments and that this is not just an unthinking, reflexive use of force which he’s been accused of doing. It’s a much more carefully thought-out strategy.
He talked – a very interesting passage of his speech about whether the Islamic world was ready for democracy and the currents within the Islamic world that are moving in a democratic direction. I think he was trying to present a reasoned, thoughtful expression of a much broader strategy than he is often given credit for in Europe.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Borger, do you agree that he was trying very hard for this not to be labeled an Iraq speech?
JULIAN BORGER: Yes. I think that’s right. And to put it in terms of a broader democratic push in the Middle East, I think its impact may backfire because I think there may be some concern that it will turn out that the Iraq war wasn’t about weapons of mass destruction, which hardly got a mention, but it was part of a broader U.S. goal in the Middle East, that Europeans and Britons don’t feel at all easy with. I think they see it the other way around. They believe that the Israel- Palestine conflict has to be solved to pave the way to establish democracy in the Middle East and not the other way around.
JIM LEHRER: Well, American commentators have are said because when Prime Minister Blair was here, remember, President Bush made a Middle East statement then. Now he’s gone to Britain and he’s made a Middle East statement that this is something that Tony Blair wants, that the British want, is that correct?
JULIAN BORGER: The British definitely want to talk about Israel-Palestine. I’m not sure how much they want to talk about the rest of the… the broader Middle East and what can be done in terms of establishing democracy there before dealing with Israel Palestine. I think many in Britain will and in Europe will see this idea of the broader democratic movement in the Middle East as a distraction, a diversion from getting down at the table with Israelis and Palestinians and putting pressure on both equally to come to an agreement.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that, Mr. Niblett — the words that the president used to Israel that it’s not helpful toward peace. Don’t shanghai peace over security barriers and fences. I’m paraphrasing what he said. Was that an important new statement? Is that going to have resonance in Britain and in Europe?
ROBIN NIBLETT: I think you noticed even on the little clip you had there, there was a kind of hesitation in the applause. It was very much a canned line to a certain extent. It was a line-and-a-half in the 45-minute speech. There wasn’t anything particularly new I think for a British audience there.
What is always noticeable is when American presidents or other American politicians talk about peace in the Middle East and especially President Bush today, he talks about Palestinian democracy being at the heart of the process. For most Europeans and I think the U.K. are with the Europeans on this one, the heart of the process is not that. It’s steps that need to be taken by the Israeli government.
They wait, and they wait for the U.S. Government to put some pressure. They know how much influence the United States appears to have. They keep expecting something to be done. When that comment which seemed to be picked up a lot here….
JIM LEHRER: It really did get a lot of play here today.
ROBIN NIBLETT: It was not the line I would have picked from the speech.
JIM LEHRER: What about the additional thing you said about the Middle East, Mr. Makins, which was that he wanted the Europeans to quit dealing with Arafat, essentially, that his time has come and gone. Is that going to work?
CHRISTOPHER MAKINS: I doubt that that’s going to work in the near future. We’ve just seen a new government created in the Palestinian territories on which Arafat has obviously put very strongly his own stamp. In a sense as compared with where we were three or four months ago when Abu Mazen became the prime minister, Arafat has come back and reemerged as a key player on the Palestinian scene.
But I think Robin is perhaps a little bit hard on that part of the president’s speech. I think it is important for the British audience, for the European audience, that he made a very firm statement on the issue of settlements, on the issue of the outposts, on the issue of the fence and what, of course, many European skeptics will be waiting to see is whether this leads to new action. But I think it is important that in this speech he made those very clear statements.
JIM LEHRER: He also made some rather direct statements back to Iraq in specific terms but also in more general terms about the United Nations. This is still a critical time for the United Nations. How does the United Nations talk go down in Britain? How does the average Britain, how does he or she think about the United Nations and the role it should be playing in the world?
JULIAN BORGER: Well, Britons think much more positively about the United Nations than the Bush administration. I think they’re pretty much on a par with Americans who are very… the American public who are very supportive of the United Nations and more in line with their own government who have pushed all the way down the road to Iraq for the U.N. to be involved. I think that’s really a benchmark for the British public — how far the Bush administration is prepared to go in getting the U.N. involved in the political transition in Iraq and whether he’s prepared to give anything out… give anything up in that negotiation.
JIM LEHRER: But what about his statement? In fact, we had it in our clip. Keep in mind as Christopher said, it was a 45-minute speech. We had about five minutes of there. But he said whatever happened before? However we got here, here’s where we are now. We either essentially cut and run or we stay and we make this thing work — one way or another. Is that the right message for the British public?
JULIAN BORGER: Yeah, I think that’s in tune with the British public. We put out a poll, the Guardian put out a poll a couple of days ago in which it was clear that there was a rebound of opinion among the British public in terms of the occupation.
There’s a feeling that the coalition has to stay and there’s a feeling that there is the possibility of improving the lives of ordinary Iraqis. I think Britons have seen TV footage of the changes of lives of people in Basra where the British are in charge. They feel I think slightly more positive about the whole thing now.
JIM LEHRER: Robin Niblett, the same poll that he was talking about also showed that what is it? The overwhelming majority of the British people are not anti-American. The perception has been in this country because of all the protests and all the anti-war stuff that every other Briton or maybe two out of every three Britons very much anti-American. The polls showed no. Why the misperception here?
ROBIN NIBLETT: Well, I think The British public are a fairly pragmatic public. They have a history of intervening globally, a history of intervening internationally. There’s a very close relationship with the United States obviously and so there are many positive aspects about the United States that they would believe. It’s interesting that the same number of people, roughly 60 percent, find President Bush to be potentially a danger to world peace.
So although 60 percent see America as a force for good in the world, roughly 60 percent also see President Bush in a more negative light. I think unfortunately although he’s doing a good job on this trip and I think this speech was fairly well calibrated, he does personalize and reflect in his personality many of the negative aspects of what British people think about America.
JIM LEHRER: Speaking of personalizing things, is this trip helpful or hurtful to Tony Blair politically?
CHRISTOPHER MAKINS: Well, I think it’s a little bit too soon to say. I think that the speech today gave Blair some things that are important for him –not only on the Israel Palestine issue but the line in which the president said that Tony Blair was one of the keenest advocates for the role of the United Nations in dealing with the Iraq problem. He went out of his way, I think, to say some things that will resonate well in the British public for Mr. Blair. But there are some other issues that are going to come up, I think, in their bilateral meetings tomorrow, things like the British subjects detained at Guantanamo, things like the steel tariffs.
These are very practical issues on which the advance briefing before the president’s trip was that the president is not going to have very much to give. And I think it would be most helpful for Mr. Blair if he could show some tangible result from this visit rather than what is essentially the rhetorical, important rhetorical endorsement he got today.
JIM LEHRER: How do you read that, what this does for Blair if anything?
JULIAN BORGER: I think the relationship is watched very carefully by the British public in terms of concrete achievements. The British government argues that going through the U.N. was an achievement. More involvement in the Middle East was an achievement. But they want to see something that is measurable and concrete like the Guantanamo Bay issue, like steel tariffs they’re going to watch and look for action.
JIM LEHRER: In the final analysis, of course, the four of us know because we read all the American papers and watched the American television including this program, much was said about the protests that have, you know, paralyzed things and truly hurt the possible things that the president could do. In the final analysis after… well, he’s not gone yet but it looks like today. How do you read the impact of the protests on this trip?
JULIAN BORGER: Far too hard to tell. I mean the big one is going to be tomorrow. It’s really going to be a question of how far they can get through and disturb the trip, affect the coverage and how far they can fit the coverage when the president goes up to the prime minister’s constituency up North in Sedgefield. I think it’s yet to be seen.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree?
ROBIN NIBLETT: I think it’s too early to tell. Tony Blair faces some tough challenges in the next couple of months. He’s got the Hutton inquiry into David Kelly’s suicide coming up in the new year. The Sun and Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers are saying that perhaps they may want to withdraw support for Tony Blair in the coming years because of his position on Europe. We have a new conservative party leader there as well who is looking a lot more efficient. He faces some very different challenges coming forward. I don’t think President Bush’s trip to the U.K. is better for President Bush back here than it is for Tony Blair in the U.K.
JIM LEHRER: How do you feel about the protests and the importance of them?
CHRISTOPHER MAKINS: I think they will be important because I think there’s a danger they will drown out the other messages that the president and the prime minister are trying to get out of this trip. I think the fact that the speech was a very strong, clear message today that should come clearly through tomorrow. But the protests may be the big story tomorrow, and that may be what lingers in people’s minds.
JIM LEHRER: We’ll wait and see. Tomorrow is tomorrow and it always is tomorrow. Thank you all three very much.