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Last Updated: Friday, 21 July 2006, 06:47 GMT 07:47 UK
Washington diary: The Big Brother G8
By Matt Frei
BBC News, Washington

So now we know: the G8 summit in St Petersburg was really the Big Brother House.

George W Bush and Tony Blair at the G8 summit
Has Mr Blair been displaced as Mr Bush's favourite?
Thanks to the unscripted moments provided by an open microphone, George Bush showed himself to be relaxed verging on boorish, discussing world affairs while munching a bread roll and distilling diplomacy down to a four-letter word.

He should have been wearing a string vest.

Tony Blair hovered in the background like an abused wife, anxious to appease her domineering husband with a dish he simply didn't want to touch.

Whatever happened to the man who was once hailed as the Athens to Washington's Rome and the brains to Bush's brawn?

Tony Blair is in desperate need of a Love Actually moment, the film in which Hugh Grant, the foppish but feeble British prime minister, stands up to a bullying American president with vintage defiance.

Bizarre gift

Curious George, it appears, has discovered a new mistress.

She is called Angela Merkel and to watch the two of them giggling, smiling and flirting in her home region of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern - the German equivalent of Crawford, Texas - was to witness a political courtship in bloom.

Angela Merkel and George Bush at the G8 summit
The chancellor's gift can only mean love
The flirtation was cemented by a vat of pickled herring, a gift so bizarre that only true love can explain it.

My colleagues from the White House press corps spent much of this week wondering what had happened to the herring.

A rumour flared that the vat might have been ejected from Air Force One over the Baltic, thus reuniting the herring with their natural habitat.

High-level sources, who wished to remain anonymous, reassure me that no such ejection took place and that the vat has been bequeathed to a puzzled White House chef, who is now busy Googling Baltic fish recipes on the web.

If there are any doubts about the blossoming bond between Angela and George, further proof came in the form of an impromptu back rub in the Big Brother House, administered over lunch by the commander-in-chief to the German chancellor.

Not even Ronnie and Maggie were this intimate. Tony must have been seething with jealousy.

But Angela's ascendancy is hardly surprising.

Yo, all you feminists out there, who loath W as a strutting Texan cowboy, I have news for you: George Bush has a feminine side.

Laura Bush and Barbara Bush, the president's wife and mother
Mr Bush is comfortable around strong women
He truly cherishes the company of strong, clever women like Karen Hughes, Condi Rice and, of course, his own wife Laura.

It is they who exert far more influence on him than the likes of Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld.

Apparently it all goes back to W's childhood in Midland, Texas.

While the son laboured under a certain froideur from his father, he always had a robust but loving relationship with his matriarchal mother Barbara, especially after the death of his older sister from leukaemia.

Monday's reality TV also revealed that George Bush really doesn't care much for the "jaw-jaw" of summitry.

He was disdainful about the desire of his colleagues to assuage global nerves with some well-chosen if ponderous words.

He was the only one who didn't give a post-summit news conference, muttering over lunch that he "gotta go home... got stuff to do!"

As it happens, his evening schedule back at home was blank.

Some leaders believe in the power of the word to change destiny.

I suspect that the president does not.

No shades of grey

He is instinctively suspicious of a language he labours to master.

As a conviction politician who sees the world in black and white, he has limited use for rhetoric to tease out the grey.

Israeli fighter jet
Mr Bush seems happy to let the Israelis batter Hezbollah
As America's first MBA president, he is interested in results.

And as an evangelical Christian, he believes in fundamental truths.

The outcome is a man who can be refreshingly decisive - the removal of the Taleban - or as determined as a lemming - the occupation of Iraq.

"The decider", as he recently referred to himself, will only inch towards the altar of diplomacy with great reluctance.

The president takes the diplomatic route when all others are closed.

That is the case with North Korea and Iran, where a military engagement is likely to yield disaster.

But George Bush and Condi Rice believe that the current crisis offers a rare opportunity.

Israel has been provoked into becoming the tool that will destroy Hezbollah once and for all, they believe.

The Israelis are viewed by Washington in the same way as the Serbian armies were once seen by the Habsburgs in Vienna - a ruthless battering ram to smite the sworn enemies on the edge of empire.

No Damascus dealing

The administration has frozen Damascus out of any diplomacy.

It doesn't want to haggle out deals with a regime it makes no secret of loathing, holds responsible for the evils of Lebanon and discreetly hopes may even totter in the continuing crisis.

I am sure many Syrians would welcome the demise of President Assad, the majority of Lebanese don't want to see the return of the Syrian army, and the world - including Washington - would love to embolden the embattled, democratically elected government in Beirut.

But the road to Damascus is paved only with good intentions and pitted with the potholes of a grim reality.

Bombing Beirut airport, power stations, motorways, ports and Christian neighbourhoods does nothing to endear even those Lebanese who dislike Hezbollah to Washington's cause.

"Jaw-jaw" may be futile, but is better than "war-war", especially when the plan to turn a crisis into an opportunity is little more than a brazen gamble.


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