How etiquette can win us even more influence

Excuse me, Your Majesty, did you just pour the milk in the cup before the sugar? Right, we're banning your steel
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The Independent Online

There is one way Tony Blair could redeem himself during this state visit - by having a laugh with the whole thing. He could take Bush to the Shetland Islands, show him an old cottage and say it was Buckingham Palace. Then he could tell him the old woman in the Post Office was the Queen. So she could say, "Ach Mr President, would you like a wee scone", and the world would see Bush bowing and replying: "It would be an honour, your majesty." Meanwhile the real Queen would be pacing up and down the way you do when guests are late, muttering: "Bloody hell, the shepherd's pie will be ruined."

At the very least, Blair could put his hand-wringing style to good effect. He could make a speech that went: "While welcoming the President, I must say that frankly, when he said the Iraqis had bought uranium from Africa, and when Colin Powell said Iraq has at least seven biological agent factories and then Donald Rumsfeld said in March that we know where the chemical weapons factories are, I believed him and frankly, y'know, as a result I've been made to look a right twat."

Instead we're told the etiquette of an official state visit will "give us influence". So we'd better hope the Queen does everything properly, or Bush will say: "Excuse me, Your Majesty, did you just pour the milk in the cup before the sugar? Right, that's it, we're banning your steel."

Maybe this explains how relations broke down between the US and Saddam. For years, visitors to Baghdad, such as Donald Rumsfeld, were treated with the correct decorum and they got on fine. Then one night Rumsfeld noticed the butter knife was on the wrong side of the spoon and yelled: "I've never been so insulted. Give us back the nerve gas we sold you or you'll get a cruise missile through your palace."

This logic, that the more you do what Bush asks, the more influence you have over him, must be slightly worrying for the Queen. She must be concerned that Blair will take her to one side and say: "Is there any chance you could abdicate? As George would love to be crowned King and then he might be a bit more receptive to our tariff proposals at the next G8 summit."

Some people who are not keen on Bush have suggested the demonstrations against him should not make the war on Iraq the main issue, but concentrate on matters such as the Kyoto agreement. Whatever else, they say, the war did get rid of a dictator. But this is to assume there are two George Bushes, a decent one who overthrows tyrants, and a dreadful one who ignores agreements and consigns poor countries to further poverty. Whereas the war on Iraq isn't separate from his other policies, it's a major part of the same strategy, which is, as his Defense Department named it, "full-spectrum dominance" or "the project for the American century".

The aim is not increased democracy but increased power for the elite of American society. Some have argued that whatever the reason, this policy has rid the world of Saddam, but in doing so it has strengthened a series of other tyrannies, such as the military regime in Pakistan and the charming government of Uzbekistan, who deal with opponents by boiling them alive in water. Maybe we'll invite their president on a state visit as well, in order to influence them. Then Blair will announce another diplomatic success, as they agree in future to add bubble bath.

So it seems misplaced to cheer a strategy of bringing mayhem to the planet because it brought down one evil bastard on the way. It's like saying there's nothing wrong with drinking and driving because every now and then one of the pedestrians that gets run over is a malicious old git who no one will miss anyway.

But one of the most peculiar arguments is that we should welcome Bush because America is our friend. America certainly is our friend, having given us Muhammad Ali, Jimi Hendrix, the abolitionists during the Civil War, Billie Holiday, Michael Moore, Kurt Cobain and Lisa Simpson. But every one of them would be eager to be at the front of the demonstrations against Bush.

When the statue of Saddam was pulled down, the pictures of around 500 people dancing was beamed around the world as a historic moment of liberation. So as long as there are more than 500 today, we can expect CNN to flash images across the planet while commentators splutter: "What an extraordinary scene as, oh my goodness, oh and one young man is quite literally blowing a whistle. Amazing, really astonishing..."

Meanwhile the Queen will be saying, "George, it must be awful having to get elected by the people before becoming head of state", and George will answer: "Oh there's ways round that, ma'am."

And Blair will announce that all this diplomacy has paid off in influence, as from now on whenever he meets Bush, the President will let him decide which buttock to start on first.