George Bush, introducing himself to his British hosts last week on his wartime pilgrimage to the Old Country, invoked the Anglo-American "alliance of values," uniting his West Texas and Tony Blair's County Durham. These values, he said, are compassion, courage and fearless determination.
He echoed Winston Churchill's appeal, in the dark early days of World War II when civilized men and women were under attack as they are today, to the moral authority and the love of liberty on which Britain and America are built. He recalled Churchill's farewell exhortation to his ministers in 1945 that England should "never be separated from the Americans."
The foreign policies of the two countries, he said, are directed by our "deepest beliefs" in the value of human rights and "open societies ordered by moral conviction." Strength emanates from moral authority and the willingness to use military might in defense of that authority.
The president's speech, delivered at Whitehall Palace, was eloquent in its attention to a shared vision that pursues freedom and peace when "evil is in plain sight." By looking at today's dangerous realities, the president reinvigorated the glorious links of the special relationship. "Great responsibilities have fallen once again to the great democracies," he said. "We will face these threats with open eyes and we will defeat them."
The president's critics mock his garbled syntax, his Texas accent and his occasional malapropisms, but his speech in London defied the witty observation of George Bernard Shaw that "England and America are two countries divided by a common language." On this visit, the president and the prime minister spoke the same language, demonstrating their shared appreciation of blunt counsel, a strong backbone and a tough idealism, willing to confront common enemies.
The confrontation began just beyond the walls of the palace, where the shouts and insults of leftist and Muslim demonstrators underlined the task before the president and the prime minister. On one evening of a week of protest, some of the dissenters gathered to listen to Harold Pinter, the I-hate-America playwright whose works demonstrate man's inability to communicate with his fellow man (and woman).
He illustrated his point with a comparison of the United States under George W. Bush to Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler, both, in the warped Pinter view, ambitious to conquer the world in behalf of evil. The United States, he said, "is by far the most dangerous state that has ever existed."
Pinter's characters speak in silences, but Pinter himself can't shut up. He welcomed the president with a letter in the Guardian, the journal of the British left. "I'm sure you'll be having a nice little tea party with your fellow war criminal, Tony Blair," he wrote. "Please wash the cucumber sandwiches down with a glass of blood, with my compliments."
Pinter is identified with the Theater of the Absurd, but he has lots of competition in his pursuit of theatrical absurdity. One protest group called on marchers to moon Bush: "Bare Your Bum at Bush." Others trotted out tired, gun-totin' Texas clichés. A correspondent for the BBC described the president as "George Custer in the badlands of Dakota."
Andrew Murray, leader of the Stop the War Coalition, reached back to 1066 for a comparison: The president, he said, "was the most unwelcome visitor to these shores since William the Conqueror." The many Muslims in the crowd were eager to invoke the remembrance of the Crusades. They united in Trafalgar Square to pull down a papier-mâché effigy of the president in remembrance of Saddam Hussein.
The president had a mocking zinger of his own. "We have that at home, too," he said of the noisy protests. "They now have that right in Baghdad as well." The irony is not lost on the young. A poll by the Guardian found that a majority of "twentysomethings" in Britain actually welcomed the president.
Queen Elizabeth, like Tony Blair, toasted the special relationship. America and Britain, she said, are like close friends who have their spats, and can disagree with each other. But they know how to make up quickly.
She might have been reading Churchill, too. "No people respond more spontaneously to fair play," said the man whose eloquence and common sense was one of the super weapons of that earlier war to save the West. "If you treat Americans well, they always want to treat you better."