Rupert Cornwell: Roles are reversed as 'George and Tony' show nears its end

Related Topics

It was supposed to be, as the Downing Street and White House jargon has it, a "forward-leaning" meeting, dwelling on the future of Iraq and Iran and the irresistible march of freedom and democracy to the darkest recesses of the planet. In the event, the joint press conference of George Bush and Tony Blair was a rather sorry affair, less sunlit uplands of the future than the dark valleys of the past. Just like their respective intelligence communities, these two leaders have a credibility problem, reflected in their abysmal opinion poll ratings. On Thursday evening, it showed.

Mr Blair was as usual fluent but - at least to this observer, who sees him only rarely in the flesh - without the usual self assurance. He was a curiously diminished figure, thinner, greyer and above all more vulnerable. Usually it is the Prime Minister who rides to the rescue of this President, whose tongue-tied swagger so grates on foreign sensibilities, but to whom Mr Blair has chained his political fate.

But on this his eighth post-9/11 visit to Washington, the roles were sometimes reversed. As usual, as Mr Bush wallowed in his linguistic morass of "deciders", and "suiciders" and "Aboo Geraib" (Abu Ghraib), Mr Blair provided the linguistic polish. But in this instalment of the "George and Tony" show, the President on occasion came to the rescue of his trustiest friend. Was this an occasion to say farewell, given that this might be the last such of its kind, a British reporter inquired? For once, Mr Blair seemed lost for words. But pal George smartly stepped in.

"Don't count him out," the President said, having just praised Mr Blair's resilience and constancy. "I want him to be here so long as I'm President," he added, oblivious to the concerns of Gordon Brown, for whom sometime in 2007 - or sooner - rather than 20 January 2009, is the desired moment of hand-over in Downing Street.

But above all, it was a time of confessions, and the acknowledgement of mistakes. For Mr Blair, the big error was de-Baathification - the reckless dismantling of the Saddamist bureaucratic infrastructure ordered in 2003 by the hapless proconsul Paul Bremer (now rewarded with the Presidential Medal of Freedom).

For Mr Bush, as usual, admitting error was like having a wisdom tooth removed without anaesthetic. But some mistakes he did concede: not least the Texan macho talk of "Bring 'em on" and "Wanted dead or alive" - "I learnt some lessons about expressing myself in a little more sophisticated manner."

But the worst was the disclosure in April 2004 of the prison abuse photos at Abu Ghraib: "We've been paying for that for a long time."

Mr Blair listened intently. Looking at our aged and drained Prime Minister, you could not but ask yourself whether there are moments in the small hours when he asks himself, was Iraq the most terrible mistake? If so, the moment surely passes quickly. But on Thursday, he was a prisoner of the past.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Administrator - IT - Fixed Term, Part Time

£17340 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Come and join one of the UK's leading ca...

Recruitment Genius: Property Sales Consultant - Chinese Speaking - OTE £70,000

£18000 - £70000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity for a Fluent Chines...

Recruitment Genius: AV Installation Engineer

£27000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to business growth, this is...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Refugees try to cross the border from Greece into Macedonia, near Gevgelija, on Wednesday. The town sits on the ‘Balkan corridor’ used by refugees, mostly from Syria, to travel from Turkey to Hungary, the gateway to the EU  

The UK response to the plight of Syrian refugees is a national embarrassment

Kevin Watkins
The provincial capital of Idlib, Syria, which fell to al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra last week  

'I was sure I’d be raped or killed. I was terrified': My life as a gay Syrian refugee who had to flee Isis

Subhi Nahas
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent