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

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

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own