- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2003

This is old-home week in London, where the lefties, crazies and doofuses from several continents are massing to protest George W. Bush’s excellent adventure.

The clangorous fun started yesterday when a granny in a bright yellow windbreaker climbed the gate at Buckingham Palace to mount an American flag upside down at the queen’s front door.

George and Laura arrive today with their cast of nearly a thousand (including 200 scribes and other Pharisees), but the big march is later, the last hurrah for the over-the-hill gang, some from Europe and many from the United States. A lot of them look not only over the hill, but ready for the big sleep under the trees.

Those wonderful folks who missed the last hay wagon home from the ‘60s are desperate not so much to stop the war as to reprise the glory days of their youth, when sex, friendship and “revolution” flowered in the streets. But the times, they have changed, and Viagra and raisin bran can only do so much.

Nevertheless, the wrinkled celebrities and political passions evoke that bygone era when Lenin, Fidel and Ho Chi Minh held the keys to the kingdom of heaven on earth. A visitor to London can repair to the odd Unitarian chapel to watch films about hard times for revolution in Nicaragua and Chile and listen to learned harangues by Ron Kovic, Harold Pinter, Anthony Wedgwood Benn (who wants to be called just plain “Tony” now), spiced with the occasional unwrinkled face (actress Kate Hudson). There’s an “experimental” opera about Palestinian suicide bombers and the evil Jews and their accomplices in America, the evil Christians; three short plays about the World War I and even a film retrospective of the Aldermaston March, that famous protest of a half-century ago aimed at shutting down the American side in the Cold War. This time the marchers say they want to “stop the war in Iraq … declared by the United States and its allies against ‘terrorism.’” The organizers are careful to go on record as “sympathizing” with the dead of September 11, but like certain British news organizations are also careful to put quotation marks around “terrorism,” as if terrorism were the fiction of George W.’s imagination.

The venom aimed at the president is likely to astonish Americans nurtured on their inheritance of language and literature, of blood and memory, and of books and movies celebrating the special relationship, Churchill, Mrs. Miniver, the English bulldog and all that. The bulldog, alas, sickened on six decades of socialist mush, has neither teeth nor appetite left to answer injury and insult. Virility has been leached out of the body politic.

No one knows this better than Tony Blair, almost as virile and manly as Margaret Thatcher ever was, who has paid in his own Labor Party for his stalwart devotion to duty at the side of George W. Bush. Most of his countrymen, if the public-opinion polls are correct, are eager to retreat into high-minded indifference to what the prime minister correctly calls “the security threat of the 21st century.”

The president’s visit was the prime minister’s big idea, meant when it was planned 18 months ago to cement the special relationship, the perpetual envy of the French, into the modern English consciousness. The president’s men have made the visit difficult by insisting on exporting the enormous White House tail to London. The Secret Service, which would always prefer to shoot everybody and sort the guilty from the innocent at the morgue, settled for taking “only” 250 bodyguards to London. Queen Elizabeth II herself squelched an expensive American scheme to make structural changes to Buckingham Palace, to make it safe for George W. and Laura to sleep there two nights. Says one of her courtiers: “Her Majesty’s view was that there are going to be 5,000 British police officers involved in the president’s security, so it’s not unreasonable to expect her guests to have some faith in their abilities.” In fact, the queen’s own bodyguards, with a strategy of doing more with less, have a much better record of preventing assassinations than the Secret Service.

Despite altered circumstances, the president and prime minister can each expect to get something from the visit. Together in a noble cause, both men stand a little taller. President Bush bristled yesterday at the suggestion that he’s looking for a quick and easy way to cut and run from Iraq. That’s good news. Tony Blair won’t have to repeat Maggie Thatcher’s admonition to his father a decade ago: “Don’t go wobbly on us, George.”

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

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