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Last Updated: Friday, 10 March 2006, 16:40 GMT
President under pressure
Brian Walden
A POINT OF VIEW
By Brian Walden

President Bush is facing criticism both abroad and at home. But that doesn't mean that the British government is going to weaken its relationship with Washington.

After Britain got into the Second World War, the British people began to learn a lot about the USA. Prior to the war, Hollywood was the only American institution that people knew a great deal about.

The American government had pursued an isolationist policy for many years and so I suppose it didn't make much sense to be deeply interested in what Washington was thinking when every day the headlines were dominated by Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin.

When information about America and the Americans started to pour out it took two forms. The first concentrated on the immense practicality of American domestic gadgetry.

The second emphasised the extreme simplicity of American thought. Bear in mind, in the rush to war the British understandably took refuge in stereotypes. At that time they felt that we were surrounded by unfathomable and peculiar foreigners.

Show trials

The Germans sang sentimental songs, but were fanatically devoted to Adolf Hitler. The Russians also sang and danced as well, but they kept confessing in famous trials that they were all working for the Japanese secret service, or the Gestapo.

James Stewaer
Post-war Britons saw Jimmy Stewart as a typical "telling the truth" American

It was a relief for the British to turn from these odd nations to the straightforward Americans, who knew nothing of the world outside America and apparently judged everything in simple, moral terms.

It was the assumed simplicity of Americans that was both appealing and reassuring. True, America had gangsters; short men in smart clothes played in movies by Jimmy Cagney and Edward G. Robinson.

But the ordinary American was a tall, shambling figure, as portrayed by Gary Cooper or Jimmy Stewart, who spoke monosyllabically and believed in telling the truth. Snide critics asserted that the ordinary American wasn't overwhelmingly bright, but we all have our little failings. And what he lacked in intelligence he more than made up for in raw courage.

So the Americans not only reassured the British by their simple strength, they also made the British feel sophisticated.

They aroused none of the unease the French did. Listening to the French made the British feel like bumpkins. The Americans made us feel like wise uncles. We could smile at their naivety and comfort ourselves with the thought that they wouldn't come to grief with us around to throw in a bit of Old World duplicity when needed.

Patronising

Patronising though they may have been, these feelings contributed greatly to the strength behind the Anglo-American alliance. Harold Macmillan said the British were the ancient Greeks, guiding and advising the American Rome.

Perhaps that wasn't very tactfully put and maybe shouldn't have been said in public at all, but it did illustrate the cement that held the alliance together.

George Bush
George Bush is facing questions

How different from the situation this week when the American President, though nominally supported by us, is in fact cruelly isolated.

Last week President Bush made a trip to Asia, which had a strange atmosphere to the point of being weird. He turned Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, into a kind of ghost town. The reason why could be found in a Punjabi opinion poll. 3% thought the USA was a trusted partner for Pakistan, while 60% didn't even support the war on the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Oblivious to opinion polls and the eerie silence, President Bush gently urged Pakistan's President Musharraf to get his agents into al-Qaeda and bring the terrorists to justice.

He also recommended a strong dose of American style democracy for Pakistan, apparently convinced that once the government of Pakistan did what the man in the street wanted all would be well - even though the man in the street had made his feelings towards the United States clear enough by keeping the same streets empty during the President's visit.

Unpopularity

Back home this week the president finds many things slipping away from him and this in a year when there are important congressional elections in November.

Flag
Protestors against President Bush's visit to Pakistan

I get a growing sense that though Republicans have nothing to gain from repudiating President Bush, many of those running for election this year would welcome the chance to put as much distance between him and them as possible.

It can't be pleasant to suspect that your own followers are currently seeking to avoid you, especially as you know there isn't the foggiest chance that the Republican party will choose anybody to run for President in 2008 who would dream of enthusiastically supporting your policies

While President Bush has been conducting his so-called "war on terror", he finds in his own backyard that two long-term problems are rapidly degenerating from being very tricky to being practically insoluble.

The first is immigration. Most Western countries are set to lose population eventually, because of declining birth-rates. Those countries that aren't going to lose population, and interestingly enough Britain and the USA are among them, will avoid a drop in population because of immigration.

Immigration

But, as we all know, immigration isn't necessarily welcomed by the host community. Statements made by Congressmen on Tuesday made it clear that the President's immigration policy is in a little trouble.

President Chavez
The "Yankee-baiting" President Chavez of Venezuela

Broadly speaking, George Bush welcomes Hispanic immigrants as hard-working and possessing good conservative values. Since they're not, as a group, particularly affluent, many probably vote for the Democrats, but Bush has always been well-supported by them when he's been on the ticket.

In my opinion, the USA hasn't had any properly enforced immigration policy towards Hispanic people for donkeys' years. What happens is that many enter the USA illegally and then become legal after time.

I entirely agree with George Bush that this is good for the economy and I wouldn't mind betting that's the opinion of most American businessmen. So the top end of the Republican Party is safe for the President on this issue. But the bottom end isn't.

Gringos

What we might call the "cultural" Republicans - plain people of the South and West who don't have much money, but are social and religious conservatives - are unhappy about immigration and want a lot less of it.

The President's other backyard problem is Latin America. The quite open hatred of the USA, in an area that the Americans have dominated diplomatically since time immemorial, is becoming only too embarrassingly obvious.

No country in Latin America seems to be able to go to the polls without electing some jeering, socialistic critic of the gringos. Possibly the best-known of these Yankee-baiters is President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.

Naturally he's a friend of Fidel Castro and he's training a vast volunteer army ready for the attack he says the Americans are going to launch on him. The public relations impact of this Latin American upsurge could hardly be worse for President Bush.

How on earth is he supposed to persuade anybody that he can conciliate ordinary Muslims, when he can't conciliate the ordinary people of Central and South America?

Special relationship

There's no danger that a British government will respond to any of this by becoming anti-American. Whatever doubts might lurk on the backbenches, both the Labour and Conservative leadership want to preserve our alliance with America.

That may be a cautious view, but it's very understandable. I can see why, quite apart from its enormous military power, there's a preference for America. We share a lot of history with the USA, which, its champions believe, helped keep Britain a free society against the threat of Nazi oppression.

And you know not everybody is anti-American because they oppose the conflict in Iraq, or dislike the imprisonments at Guantanamo Bay, or the mistreatment of suspects. As late as the 1980s some anti-Americans wanted the Soviet Union to win the Cold War, so that world revolution could at last break out.

I regard being pro or anti-American as part of an era we're emerging from. Now we've a chance to change things that hasn't existed since the 19th Century and we should try to take it. The long period of peace after the Napoleonic Wars led some European statesmen to suggest principles of foreign policy that are as valid today as they were then.

Their essence is that every state should receive equality of treatment and none should be regarded as a pariah. The duty of leading nations is to preserve peace. Peace is more important than progress. Any war, no matter how noble the aims for which it is fought, will have unintended consequences. I hope all the great powers will have the sense to proclaim the wisdom behind these principles.


Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

The UK should stop being so sentimental about the US: individual Americans may be 100% friendly, helpful and welcoming to British people but the people who run the US aren't and haven't been so for decades. Think back to the self-serving actions the US took during the Suez War (1950s) to gain dominance in the Middle East, CIA covert operations in British Guiana (now Guyana) before independence (1961-6), an invasion of Grenada (part of the British Commonwealth) in 1983 with no warning to their 'ally' Britain at all. With a friend like this, who needs enemies? I'm with Chavez: the US isn't a friend and the UK had better wake up to this before we lose any chance of making friends elsewhere.
Toby, Aberdeen

Bush may hear the criticism, but it will not effect his administration in any way. They do exactly as they please and get away with it, simply because they can.
Ian, Manchester

I suspect my viewpoint is quite common: I would see myself as far more pro-US than anti-US. However I'm very much against many of the policies of the current US administration, and will be very glad to see the end of Bush's final term.
Ian, Edinburgh, Scotland

A war can indeed have unforeseen consequences - but then again so can a peace. While it may be attractive to have rules of thumb - such as "peace at all costs" - for international relations it may sometimes be better to deal with the situations one faces intelligently.
Chris O'Neill, Cardiff

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