- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 23, 2003

Some of President Bush’s most strident critics acknowledge that his trip last week to Britain was not the failure they expected, while his allies see it as a historic moment in international diplomacy.

The keystone was Mr. Bush’s speech Wednesday, peppered with self-deprecating humor and reaffirming the “special relationship” between the United States and Great Britain.

“The British people are the sort of partners you want when serious work needs doing,” Mr. Bush said, thanking Prime Minister Tony Blair for being his staunch ally in “a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East.”

Mr. Bush also vowed that the United States no longer would turn a blind eye to repression by Middle East “elites” for the sake of preserving stability — a reference not only to American enemies such as Syria and Iran, but also allies like Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Mr. Bush even embraced the shouts of thousands of protesters who marked his arrival in London as the most unpopular American president in European eyes since Ronald Reagan during the Cold War days of the 1980s.

“There were people in Baghdad,” the president noted, “who weren’t allowed to do that until recently.”

Mr. Bush more than met expectations, especially with a speech that represented his “finest hour on the international stage,” said Nile Gardiner, an international-affairs fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

“The speech was powerful and projected tremendous clarity and vision,” Mr. Gardiner said. “Many were expecting President Bush to make some sort of apology to his critics. Fortunately, there was nothing of the sort in the speech.”

Steven Hess, presidential scholar at the Brookings Institution, a liberal think tank, said he had worried that Mr. Bush was making a trip to Britain at “the wrong time.”

But the president, he said, “did exceedingly well.”

“I think the major speech was particularly elegant,” Mr. Hess said. “I’m sure [Mr. Bush] surprised those who were looking for an inarticulate Texas cowboy.”

The Independent, a British newspaper that has been a consistent critic of the Bush administration, hailed the president for delivering a speech “with a degree of verve, eloquence and even humor that defied his reputation as the least articulate American president since Calvin Coolidge.”

The Guardian, another left-leaning partisan newspaper, said Mr. Bush’s speech was a “palatable, even attractive” expression of the Bush Doctrine of fighting terrorism around the globe.

Thursday’s protest of Mr. Bush in London attracted a crowd of 70,000, London police said, far fewer than the 100,000 organizers predicted and well below the more than 500,000 who took to the streets earlier this year to oppose the war.

Bob Boorstin, senior vice president for national security at the liberal Center for American Progress, said that if Mr. Bush made a good impression in Europe, it was because expectations were so low.

“It reminded me of the debates in the 2000 election,” Mr. Boorstin said. “The bar was set so low that if he spoke in complete sentences and delivered the speech, and there were no overt acts of violence, then the visit would be seen as a success.”

Mr. Boorstin, a foreign-policy adviser in the Clinton administration, said Mr. Bush did little to temper the “barrage of hatred for the United States’ behavior under the Bush administration.”

Europe, by and large, still views the president as a threat to world order, he said.

“People like America, but they don’t like Bush,” Mr. Boorstin said. “It was a good speech, no question. But the problem is really not in the words, but the actions. If you look at that speech and look at what’s going on in Iraq, it’s polar opposites.

“He preaches democracy, but there is no transparency at all in the way the United States is governing Iraq.”

Mr. Bush earned “grudging respect in Europe,” Mr. Gardiner said, though “he will never be loved” on the continent.

“Increasingly, he is a man respected for doing what he says and implementing what he believes,” Mr. Gardiner said. “And in the end, that is what really matters.

“Reagan was even more reviled in Europe than Bush is, and look at what he achieved.”

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