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Friday, 31 January, 2003, 00:28 GMT
Tony Blair: The US poodle?
George W Bush with Tony Blair
Tony Blair is the President's most loyal ally
Rob Watson

"America's Poodle" is the insult of choice hurled by critics of Tony Blair for his support for President Bush.

It's not, it is has to be said, a particularly original insult.

Prime Minister Tony Blair
Tony Blair faces opposition at home
I've heard it used against previous British governments during previous international crises that have seen the UK side with the US in the face of opposition both at home and abroad.

Certainly in the case of Iraq, it's an insult that appears quite wide of the mark.

Though British diplomats are loathe to get into that game of quantifying Mr Blair's influence over Mr Bush, they're happy to leave the impression his clout in Washington is considerable.

So far at least the facts seem to bear that out.

Key role

There's no doubt that Mr Blair played a key role in persuading President Bush to deal with Iraq through the United Nations in the first place when they met at Camp David last September.

The argument from Mr Blair was that taking the UN route would help make the case that Iraq was defying the world and not just the US and Britain.

Since then, Mr Blair is often described as having a "moderating" effect on Mr Bush and of persuading the president to listen more carefully to the doves in his administration than to the hawks - that is, to the advice of Secretary of State Colin Powell, rather than that of Vice President Cheney or Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

International isolation

To some extent, the level of Britain's influence is a measure of America's isolation.

With no other major power supporting it, the common wisdom in Washington is that the Bush administration can ill afford to upset or ignore its high-profile British ally.

But it's more than forced politeness.

Britain is also seen as a valuable bridge between the US and other European nations and Mr Blair a vital partner in the diplomatic "heavy-lifting" required to move France and Russia and other opponents of the tough line on Iraq.

And working with friends in Europe like Spain's Prime Minister Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, Mr Blair has played a key role in getting other European leaders to send their letter of support to President Bush.

With the diplomatic endgame in the UN about to begin, the Prime Minister's role will be crucial once again.

There is of course a certain irony to it all.

While Mr Blair is losing support at home for the pro-American stance, he is no doubt the most popular foreign political leader in Washington - and in America people frequently approach anyone with a British accent to voice admiration for "Tony".

The BBC's Janet Barrie
"Many might have thought Tony Blair stood alone"
Gustavo De Aristegui of Spain's governing party:
"Acting firmly against Iraq is the shortest way to peace"

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See also:

30 Jan 03 | Europe
30 Jan 03 | Politics
29 Jan 03 | Middle East
29 Jan 03 | Europe
29 Jan 03 | Europe
29 Jan 03 | Americas
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