Adrian Hamilton: What has Blair gained for his slavish support?

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If anyone was still tempted to believe that the friendship between George Bush and Tony Blair was an equal partnership, then the overheard conversation between the pair at the G8 summit in St Petersburg this month should have dispelled that notion. It was not just the words (damning though they were) but the body language. They were friends, to be sure, but Mr Blair was clearly in the courtier's role, desperate to please, quick to sense rejection, anxious to do right by his master.

And that is the picture painted by Sir Christopher Meyer, ambassador to the US at the time of the Iraq invasion, when Mr Blair was emphatic in his support of the new President. In his memoirs, Meyer recalls a prime minister almost neurotic in his concern to prove his reliability as the US's closest ally. What he cannot recall is Mr Blair getting anything in return.

It's a judgement that Mr Blair himself might not quarrel with. The special relationship, he has always argued, is based not on shared views, but shared values. Support for Washington over Iraq, as over the Kosovo intervention, was not the product of necessity but the flowering of belief.

No one knows just how sincere Mr Blair has been in his expressions of belief. There is the suspicion that he doesn't know himself. He speaks what is persuasive at the moment he says it.

Behind the words, the reality is more complex. At the level of officials - sharing intelligence and defence technology - the relationship with America remains strong.No British government would oppose the US outright. The question is how far we take a publicly different stance and use our influence in private.

Mr Blair has not been entirely passive. He won US support on Africa and debt relief. But he has not been able to shift US views on Israel, its isolation and threat of action against Iran, its stubborn resistance to removing agricultural subsidies, its refusal to sign up to environment agreements and its opposition to multilateral institutions.

The great criticism of Mr Blair is that he never tried. On British interests such as the UK residents in Guantanamo or trade, henever raised a squeak. On the Middle East policy and the environment, he has said one thing to the press but remained silent in face-to-face dealings with Mr Bush.

And in return? No one in America talks of a "special relationship". Of Mr Blair's personal standing in the US, there can be no doubt. In retirement he has a lucrative future there. But in office, the question rings loud: what has he gained from "hugging them close", as No 10 described his ambition four years ago when Bush first mooted invading Iraq and Blair followed dutifully along?