Quote of the day: George Bush to British journalists, “I travel in somewhat of a bubble.” (Caren Bohan, “Bush to Keep Distance from Protests on
Who can even remember — it might as well have been the Neolithic age — the moment when Bill Clinton exuberantly walked the streets of
As I write this, Air Force One is descending on
If his advisers had had their way they undoubtedly would have landed a stream of C-130 transports at Heathrow carrying the Army Corps of Engineers and done everything but divert the
In the planning for this four-day visit, you can catch in a nutshell so many aspects of Bush rule (or of the Cheney Regency, if you care to think of it that way). An invitation for the trip was evidently requested from Tony Blair almost two years ago when this administration felt in control of a world it was confident of remaking in its own image or simply crushing. Then Bush’s foreign policy men (and lone woman) were proud of being on message, “disciplined,” “secretive,” close-mouthed, in control of the media, and arrogantly sure of themselves in a faith-based sort of way, as well as confident of a reelection victory in 2004.
With a presidential stay chez the Queen and a presidential address to Parliament, as well as photo-ops of George standing firmly beside Blair, the First Ally, this was to be a photo-op of a trip meant to impress the American electorate. It was to be the foreign equivalent of that “mission accomplished” landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln. In fact, you could probably date the period of administration control (and spin control) from the planning of this visit, or perhaps simply from a few days after the September 11th attacks, to a couple of weeks after the aircraft carrier drop-by. That flyboy-pinup moment was hardly half a year ago, but doesn’t it seem like a lifetime away?
Now, Bush’s men find themselves approaching this state visit to
At the moment of the 2001 attacks, the administration reacted with panic, fear, and flight. The President, then in
Now, facing an increasingly hostile world where little is working out as planned and a
I found nothing more striking than the administration’s sudden decision to cancel an already scheduled presidential address to Parliament (an obvious response to Tony Blair’s July address to a joint session of Congress). Here’s how the British tabloid the Mirror reported this while describing a visit that will place
“George Bush was last night branded chicken for scrapping his speech to Parliament because he feared being heckled by anti-war MPs. The US president planned to give a joint address to the Commons and Lords during his state visit to Britainâ€¦The only speech Mr Bush, who will stay with the Queen at Buckingham Palace, is now due to give will be to an ‘invited audience’ at the Banqueting House in Whitehallâ€¦ Previous world leaders, including Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela and Francois Mitterand, have all given speeches to the Lords and the Commons while visiting
Now imagine this for a minute. The man who taunted the Iraqi armed opposition with the phrase “bring ‘em on” and his advisers were made anxious enough by a couple of politician-protestors during a speech to the Australian Parliament (from which, for the first time in history, the public had been locked out) that they backed down on a speech to the British Parliament. What would the President do, after all, if Labor back-benchers heckled him or walked out? Melt? Was this cowardice? Political fear? You name it. But it’s craven.
And in some ways that was the least of it. The Bush people, calling this privately “the trip from hell,” (Guardian, Nov. 17) pushed for a level of protection that speaks of depths of fear almost unmentionable in a world where everyone is exposed to certain levels of danger much of the time. Even the Queen was evidently displeased when it was suggested that
“The Queen was not amused at proposed safeguards for George Bush’s visit, reports Tim Walker in
“Senior courtiers said that the Queen was not willing to countenance bomb and airborne assault proofing that would have involved substantial alterations to her
“One courtier said: ‘They wanted blast and bullet-proofed windows and curtains and some strengthening to the walls of the President’s suite and other rooms at the Palace where he would be spending time. The President’s security men seem obsessed with the idea of an airborne attack on the Palace…
“The Queen has also limited the number of American security staff who will stay at the Palace. ‘Her Majesty’s view throughout was that since there are going to be 5000 British police officers involved in the security operation for the President, it’s not unreasonable to expect her guests to have some faith in their abilities,’ the courtier said.”
Blast-proof windows against an “airborne assault”? I’m not especially psychologically-inclined when it comes to international affairs, but I think you’d need a team of full-time psychiatrists and psychologists to plumb the mental make up of this administration right now. We may be talking close to deranged here.
After all, Fortress Buckingham was, it turns out, only the tip of the protection iceberg. Martin Bright of the British Observer reported Sunday (“‘Shoot-to-kill’ demand by US,” Nov. 16):
“Home Secretary David Blunkett has refused to grant diplomatic immunity to armed American special agents and snipers travelling to
Now imagine this for a moment. Our men in
And the Bush men were offering little to Blair in return. Julian Borger and Ewen MacAskill of the Guardian report, for instance (“US and
“Attempts by the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, to win special treatment for nine Britons detained without charge at
No wonder there will be no high-fiving in the streets of
A few of the other rejected requests included:
“[T]he closure of the Tube [subway] network, the use of US air force planes and helicopters and the shipping in of battlefield weaponry to use against rioters. In return, the British authorities agreed to numerous concessions, including the creation of a ‘sterile zone’ around the President with a series of road closures in central London and a security cordon keeping the public away from his cavalcade…
“The Americans had also wanted to travel with a piece of military hardware called a ‘mini-gun’, which usually forms part of the mobile armoury in the presidential cavalcade. It is fired from a tank and can kill dozens of people. One manufacturer’s description reads: ‘Due to the small calibre of the round, the mini-gun can be used practically anywhere. This is especially helpful during peacekeeping deployments.’”
What the Brits apparently didn’t grasp was that this weapon would have been available only for therapeutic use — in case one of the American guards, facing crowds of demonstrators, freaked out and imagined himself in Falluja.
Matt Bivens, in his Nation magazine blog The Daily Outrage, summed all this up in the following fashion:
“Consider some of the perfectly reasonable-sounding requests the British have gone all French about:
“The White House felt the need to ask that the hundreds of heavily-armed American security agents on hand be promised that, should they have to gun down a protester or any other British citizen, they will enjoy immunity from prosecution. And the Brits said no! The nerve! After all, if, say, the Chinese prime minister were to visit
Nonetheless, even without the plane-proof windows, the extra snipers with immunity and the Apache helicopters, protection for the President will be staggering. The British Independent reports (Nov. 18):
“One in nine police officers in
And remind me again, all this was for what? If you want to clear the above out of your brain, I recommend a little dose of humor from Tim Dowling of the Guardian (Nov. 18, 2003) who has come up with an alternative schedule for the President which involves deserting Buckingham Palace for the better-guarded digs of Madonna. Humor. Now there’s a danger. I don’t doubt the President’s men considered importing some mini-weapon to use should humor be unsheathed anywhere inside
[Tom Engelhardt, long time editor in publishing and author of The End of Victory Culture and The Last Days of Publishing, writes Tomdispatch.com -- a weblog of the Nation Institute offering a steady flow of alternate sources, news, and opinion -- where this article first appeared.]