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The real Downing Street memo
Media General News Service


July 08, 2005

WASHINGTON - It has been an awkward partnership - call it red state and red coat.

Yet, there they were again last week, Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain and President George W. Bush of Texas enduring yet another crisis in a long, dreary series of crises that have stretched over their mutual careers.

They were looking pretty solid.

The subway and bus bombings in London, which appeared to be the work of Islamic jihad terrorists, were designed to show the continuing competency of indiscriminate killers with timed, near-simultaneous explosions like the ones in Madrid, Spain, just over a year ago.

Blair got the news of the attacks at a summit meeting in Scotland and rushed back to London, his jaw set in determination. It is a familiar look both to Americans and British, both to Blair's admirers and critics. Bush sent his condolences with him and said he appreciated Blair's "steadfast determination and his strength."

The Spanish, shortly after the bombings in Madrid March 11, 2004, gave the boot to their pro-Iraq-war prime minister. That sent a signal that terrorism could yield immediate political dividends.

The prospect of that happening in Blair's UK is not very high. For one thing, he has just been re-elected. For another, he hasn't wavered since Sept. 11, 2001, on his commitment to this Anglo-American partnership, and no one expects him to start now. And for one last thing, this is, after all, the country that endured the Blitz.

Blair's critics have never quite understood or accepted his commitment to the U.S.-British partnership. In fact, newspapers in London have been full of reports in recent weeks suggesting that a split of one kind or another may at last be taking place on one of an assortment of issues, such as global warming.

Indeed, as they finish their careers and wind up business, Bush and Blair have diverged on separate courses, preoccupied with other people - Bush at home with his own party on court nominations and domestic fights and Blair getting his knickers in a knot with Europe and the French.

Blair has shown he is no longer the junior partner in Anglo-American Ltd. A day before the bomb attacks, he brought home the 2012 Olympics to a joyful London. And he has picked up popularity in Britain and respect across Europe with his fight to bring more fiscal integrity to the European Union.

His willingness to stand up to French President Jacques Chirac as Blair took over the presidency of that organization boosted his poll ratings in Britain more than anything else he has done in foreign policy.

Blair's face has seemed to be everywhere - including a row of flashing teeth on MTV with Live 8 impresario Bob Geldof's head on his shoulder.

When the terrorists attacked, joy left London just as they intended. And in came the reminder of Britain's grim obligations and its history. The people there need no instructions about either.

In a meeting I had last week in London before the transit attacks, a top Downing Street aide told me the U.S.-British relationship is still rock solid.

The so-called "Downing Street memos" seemed to show heavy British anxiety and hostility toward the Bush administration over Iraq. But don't be misled, the official said.

The memos, he said, presented a distorted and incomplete view of the British government's attitude.

In the heat of Blair's re-election campaign, a few internal documents, culled from thousands, were leaked to the press by the prime minister's political adversaries. The aide told me the memos were widely regarded in Britain "as systematic leaks to stop us winning the election." But when they were published a month later in the United States, he said, they took on an entirely different cast that was "completely out of context."

However surly these papers look now, he said, the British-American alliance is strong. Blair was going out of his way this past week in Scotland to stop French efforts to come between him and Bush.

So this was the backdrop when word came that London had been attacked. Bush said the terrorists would now see the resolve of the eight major industrial powers.

But he knew that there were two for sure, and that is the real Downing Street memo.


John Hall is the senior Washington correspondent of Media General News Service.
E-mail jhall(at)

Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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