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Not-So-Tough Talk 

Crank Call

You can imagine the depth of my emotion, I'm sure, when I read about the joint press conference given in Washington last week by our Fearless Fuehrer, George W. Bush, and his chief ally and co-conspirator in the "war on terror," British Prime Minister and Quaking Quisling Tony Blair. Blair was in our nation's capital for "talks" with the president -- imagine how much fun those must be! Afterward, facing reporters, he appeared "dismayed and tongue-tied," according to The New York Times.

Well, why wouldn't he? Thanks largely to the ongoing slaughter in Iraq, Blair's "sagging" approval ratings among British voters are even more awful than Bush's are here. Which is to say, in Brit-speak, they're very awful indeed, and, in American lingo, they stink. Bush's "favorable" figures are now in the 30-percent range, while Blair's clock in at a mere 26 percent. If I may lapse for a moment into the language of advertisements aimed at teenaged boys, these numbers really suck.

"U.S. political commentators repeatedly voiced wonder at a world leader with worse ratings than George Bush," said the Guardian of London. The paper further observed, "For once Bush had to come to the prime minister's verbal rescue in the face of the skepticism of the British press corps," inasmuch as Blair "looked weary and under pressure," and as if "he would have preferred to be somewhere else."

The British have long been mystified by the tenacity with which Blair clings to his "special relationship" with a dunderheaded mass killer like Bush. But, unlike their American counterparts last week, the British media generally refrained from fawning, swooning and carrying on about the "subdued," "repentant," "almost remorseful" atmosphere in Washington at the latest Bush-and-Blair dog-and-pony show.

"The news conference, in the formal setting of the East Room, was notable for the contrite tone of both leaders," the Times proclaimed with due solemnity, adding that "in an unusual admission of a personal mistake, Mr. Bush said he regretted challenging insurgents in Iraq to 'bring it on' in 2003, and said the same about his statement that he wanted Osama bin Laden 'dead or alive.'" To the amazement of the American press, Dubya had confessed that this was "kind of tough talk, you know, that sent the wrong message to people. I learned some lessons about expressing myself maybe in a little more sophisticated manner."

Right. So sophisticated has Bush become in expressing himself that, when asked what he'd miss about Tony Blair when the British people finally give him the boot, he answered, "I'll miss those red ties, is what I'll miss." As the Guardian noted, this was on a par with Bush's first recorded comment about Blair, when they met at a Camp David summit in February 2001 and Bush was pressed to explain what he thought they might have in common. "Well," he said, "we both use Colgate toothpaste."

Ha, ha, ha -- what a card our president is! CBS News marveled at Bush's "unusual burst of candor" when he mentioned the torture of prisoners at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison as "the American military's biggest mistake" in Iraq. ABC declared that "some of the bold talk we once heard . . . is gone," but neither Bush nor Blair gave the slightest sign that they intend to change their mutual, assured course of destruction in Iraq and across the Middle East. On the contrary, after lauding Blair as "a man of resolve and vision and courage," Bush made a point of saying, in that sophisticated way he has, "The amazing thing about dealing with Prime Minister Blair is, never once has he said to me on the phone, 'We better change our tactics because of the political opinion polls.' You know?"

Yeah, George, we know. We know that you're a liar and a fraud without a legitimate leg to stand on in the Iraqi fiasco, and that the only reason you trotted out Blair on Thursday is because he's still popular in the U.S. and you aren't. In other words, because the polls you pretend to disdain are down, down, down. Americans are always impressed by a British accent, detecting some kind of gravity in it that's missing in, say, the phony twang of a Connecticut Yankee from Crawford, Texas, and you need Tony Blair's endorsement right now in order to continue the killing. What Blair gets out of it I can't say. Certainly not increased popularity in his own country, where your press conference had to be televised in the middle of the night -- on cable, no less -- to minimize the political fall-out. But I noticed, George, that after you sang Blair's praises and then offered to "buy" him dinner, he didn't return the compliment.

Maybe none of this would bother me so much if it weren't Memorial Day weekend, and if I hadn't seen the faces of nine dead Vermonters staring out from the front page of Sunday's local daily -- nine Vermonters, George, killed only in the last year in the service of your ego and your folly. "No question that the Iraq war has, you know, created a sense of consternation here in America," as you remarked. "I mean, when you turn on your TV screen and see innocent people die day in and day out, it affects the mentality of our country. I can understand why the American people are troubled by the war in Iraq. I understand that."

But you don't, George. You don't and you never will.

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Peter Kurth

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