- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 4, 2004

President Bush yesterday likened British Prime Minister Tony Blair, his staunchest Iraq war ally, to his World War II-era predecessor, Winston Churchill.

“In his determination to do the right thing and not the easy thing, I see the spirit of Churchill in Prime Minister Tony Blair,” Mr. Bush said in a speech opening a Churchill exhibit at the Library of Congress.

“And this sense of fellowship and common purpose between our two nations continues to this day. I have also been privileged to know a fine British leader, a man of conscience and unshakable determination,” the president said.

Mr. Blair, expected to visit Mr. Bush in April, has been criticized fiercely in Great Britain for backing the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Like his American ally, Mr. Blair has been forced to defend his country’s intelligence on dictator Saddam Hussein and Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction. Yesterday, the prime minister was heckled by antiwar protesters while defending his policy in a parliamentary debate.

Mr. Blair acknowledged that although inspectors have not found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, “what they have found are laboratories, technology, diagrams, documents, teams of scientists told to conceal their work on biological-, nuclear- and chemical-weapons capabilities, that in sum amounts to breaches of U.N. resolutions many, many times over,” the prime minister told Parliament yesterday.

Yesterday at the Library of Congress exhibit, Mr. Bush suggested parallels between his and Mr. Blair’s policy toward Saddam and Churchill’s early antagonism toward Adolf Hitler.

“History has been kind to Winston Churchill, as it usually is to those who help to save the world,” Mr. Bush said.

Yesterday in London, Mr. Blair was interrupted by hecklers five times at the House of Commons, where the prime minister defended his Iraq policy.

Mr. Blair was giving Parliament a statement about an official inquiry that absolved his government of accusations that it had “sexed up” an intelligence dossier on Iraqi weapons.

Proceedings were suspended for 10 minutes after student protesters in the gallery interrupted the prime minister’s report with shouts of “murderer” and “whitewash.”

“I somehow feel we’re not being entirely persuasive in certain quarters,” Mr. Blair said after one of the interruptions.

At yesterday’s event in Washington, Mr. Bush — who said he keeps a “stern-looking bust” of Churchill in the Oval Office — noted that Churchill was among the first to recognize the gathering threat of Nazi Germany and forged a tight bond with President Franklin D. Roosevelt to oppose Hitler.

Mr. Bush said because the United States and Britain took the lead in facing down Saddam, “Iraq is no longer a grave and gathering threat to free nations.”

In a reference to himself, Mr. Blair and Churchill, the president said, “Others before us have shown bravery and moral clarity in this cause. The same is now asked of us, and we accept the responsibilities of history.”

And perhaps expressing his view of current Anglo-American leadership, Mr. Bush quoted Churchill: “History will be kind to me — for I intend to write it.”

Right now, the two leaders face strong criticism. Mr. Bush plans to announce this week the creation of a bipartisan, independent commission appointed by the president to investigate the U.S. intelligence community. That probe will not be completed before the Nov. 2 presidential election.

After the White House leaked word of the intelligence investigation, Mr. Blair announced he, too, would authorize an independent inquiry, a move he previously had opposed.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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