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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 May 2007, 21:54 GMT 22:54 UK
Bush and Blair's affair to remember
By Jonathan Beale
BBC News, Washington

Tony Blair and George W Bush
Neither Mr Blair nor Mr Bush wanted this to be seen as "the end"
It was an unlikely friendship that started with a smile six years ago.

The eyes of the world were on UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and President George W Bush as they met for the first time at Camp David in 2001.

How would a Labour leader with close ties to former Democratic President Bill Clinton get on with this right-wing Republican?

When asked about what they had in common Mr Bush broke the ice by remarking that they both shared "Colgate toothpaste".

It set the tone for a relaxed partnership that became even closer - forged in the cauldron of 9/11, Afghanistan and Iraq.

The final act

Fast forward to Mr Blair's last meeting at the White House and the eyes of the world were, let's be honest, elsewhere.

The curtain is falling on the "Tony and George show" with both leaders' reputations greatly diminished

In Britain, the focus was on Gordon Brown's coronation as Mr Blair's unchallenged successor.

In Washington, media attention more interested in whether the president of the World Bank, Paul Wolfowitz, would survive - with Mr Bush hinting that he would not, when he said he was sorry that it had come to this. Not quite the swansong that either Mr Blair or Mr Bush would have wanted.

The reality is that the curtain is falling on the "Tony and George show" with both leaders' reputations greatly diminished.

They have both lost the overwhelming support of their public. Like a long-running West End show their audience is no longer clamouring for seats. On both sides of the Atlantic there are new political shows in town.

Not that either wanted this to be seen as "the end".

Mr Blair came on his last trip to Washington with as long a wish list as ever.

For him, it was not so much a final curtain call but a final push on issues close to his heart - climate change, Africa, Darfur and the worsening situation in the Middle East.

But the questions from both the British and American media showed that the enduring relationship of the last six years will soon be history.

Mr Blair fielded questions about whether he was now the right man for Mr Bush to meet. Mr Bush accused those very same reporters of "tap-dancing on his grave".

They were mistaken, he said, because this prime minister was still making decisions and was respected around the world.

Nevertheless, anti-war protesters could be heard in background of the Rose Garden news conference - ready to set light to the funeral pyre.

The Iraq question

What was most striking was that right until the bitter end there was no sense of regret on the one decision that has cost them so dear: Iraq.

The tired analogy of Mr Blair being Mr Bush's poodle never seems to have hit home - or even hurt.

Mr Bush and Mr Blair - despite the mess on the ground in Baghdad - have only reinforced their convictions that they did the right thing, that they are engaged in a global struggle against extremism.

Mr Bush once again fed off the soaring rhetoric from Mr Blair, possibly wishing that he could do the same.

The US president conceded that "it could be" that the decision ultimately led to Mr Blair's early departure. But it was all academic - Mr Blair said he would do it all again.

The future

It started with a smile and it would be convenient, but trite, to suggest it ended in tears.

Sure, the decisions they have made together have not ended as they would have liked. But as Mr Bush noted, the first draft of history is not always right - that is his hope, anyway.

Mr Bush gave Gordon Brown his imprimatur - if not a name check - saying he was a "good fellow".

Few think that the relationship will be as close. But then again, six years ago few thought that Mr Blair would form such a close bond with this Republican president.


SEE ALSO
Bush: Blair exit may be my fault
17 May 07 |  UK Politics
Blair and Bush hold pre-G8 talks
17 May 07 |  UK Politics
Europe diary: Blair's friends
10 May 07 |  Europe
World media on Blair's Iraq legacy
11 May 07 |  Special Reports

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