The End of the Affair: President Bush in London

Last week, President Bush gave an exclusive, one-on-one, interview to a reporter from the London Sun, a newspaper which features naked women as a "large" part of its "coverage." Chicago was "busted," or bested. Neither the Chicago Tribune nor the Chicago Sun-Times has ever been afforded a similar exclusive. Yes, George Bush is on his way to London. What does it all mean? For Americans? For Britain. For the world?

My conclusion: it’s going to be a sad occasion. I wish the president were not going.

I was based in London in 1995 when the 50th anniversaries of VE (Victory Europe) and VJ (Victory Japan) days were celebrated. They were joyous occasions. Even Princess Di was in the procession. Having won the greatest war, World War II, people still wanted to commemorate and remember 50 years later.

Will we celebrate "Operation Iraqi Freedom" 50 years from now? I doubt it.

President Bush’s trip may humiliate him, undermine his ally Tony Blair, and create 1968 conditions all over again.

During 1967-1968, the American president became a virtual prisoner of the White House. Anywhere President Johnson went there were hostile demonstrations to greet him, culminating in the chaos we witnessed in Chicago at the Democratic National Convention.

Now another American president is about to become a prisoner of the White House. Everywhere Bush goes, his operatives try to shield him from the reality of vehement protest, the intensity of opposition to his policies. It is only beginning. London may become a watershed in anti-Bush hysteria and hatred.

November 15th’s Times of London carries a column titled "The man who taught us to despise Americans." It gets worse, notwithstanding the Bush interview accompanied by the naked ladies in the Sun.

Former government ministers who opposed the Iraq invasion have excoriated Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair. Blair could fall, sooner rather than later. He will not be helped.

The Queen is reported to be unhappy.

The visit has been a public relations disaster. Bush wanted a motorcade down the Mall. But he wanted the British people excluded! Two hundred and fifty Secret Service agents are arriving, three wide body jets of equipment. On and on it goes.

Is it time to rein in the Imperial presidency, for Congers to put some sensible limits on presidential entourages? I think so.

Bush advance men have tried to encapsulate the president, while evacuating central London. It won’t work. My guess is that the expected 100,000 protesters will swell as a result of the security controversy. We could see 250,000 people protesting. Some photo-op.

Bush wants to visit the families of British servicemen killed in Iraq. They has been hostile reaction. He wants to sally forth across Britain. But he is genuinely not welcome.

I feel very sad about all of this. If we had won a legitimate victory in Iraq, if there had been a legitimate basis for war, we could all celebrate the state visit of an American president to America’s closest ally. But the war in Iraq is dividing Americans, not brining us closer together. Why expect the rest of the world to be any different?

As London newspapers make clear, Bush is both our head of state and government leader. We as Americans want him to be welcomed, we want to be welcomed. What have we done to deserve this ignominy? It is painful.

Maybe in the final analysis it is better that Bush goes and is jeered and protested. Bush opponents reportedly will spend all night outside his windows at Buckingham Palace disturbing him. Maybe we Americans have allowed the Imperial Presidency, and our own genuflection for our ersatz royalty, to allow us to tolerate a president who is becoming increasingly insulated and isolated from the American people. I for one do not want to relive 1968. I landed at O’Hare airport, from Viet-Nam the day the protests began in Chicago. It was ugly.

Maybe Bush has to go to Britain to find out what more and more Americans are believing: Iraq was bungled, is being bungled and is no cause for celebration.

This could be the end of Britain’s love affair with all things American. I hope not.