Monday, November 24, 2003
Back in the USA. Had a very productive trip to London, though the food hasn't improved as much as people say. Then had a very tiring weekend of family obligations.
While I was gone, neo-con paranoia seems to have increased even as they increasingly seem to be winning (at least part of) the argument.
Take this example from David Frum. Before the President's trip, Frum was fretting that the trip would be a debacle because of huge protests, apparent public revulsion towards the President among the citizens of a key ally, damage to the British PM because of his closeness to the President, etc. He went so far as to accuse folks in the State Department of having deliberately set the President up for a disaster because of their opposition to the Iraq war.
Well, the trip went very well: polls registered stronger than expected support for Bush, Blair and the war; the protesters were fewer in number than expected, and their antics were treated with less respect; and other news - the Michael Jackson indictment and the terrorist attacks against British civilians in Turkey - gave the visit a more positive-spin context (in the one case by making the media seem shallow, in the other by reminding people who we're at war with, and why).
So Frum was wrong. But he's still grumpy, and suspects, in retrospect, that Bush's security-related precautions, which kept him behind closed doors for almost the entirety of the visit, made him look insecure and ceded the streets to the radicals. But this objection entirely contradicts his pre-visit objection. Frum, after all, would have had Bush not go at all, but meet Blair in Bermuda or some such.
He can't have it both ways. Either Bush is widely hated in Britain, and, rather than make this fact obvious, he should have avoided the country. Or he is *not* widely hated and, rather than allow a bunch of fringe lunatics to represent British public opinion, he should have gone to Britain and appeared in public to shows of support as well as opposition, and strengthened his position there and around the world. And if the latter is the case, then Frum's paranoid musings - inasmuch as they might have been shared by others in the Administration - contributed to what is likely to be the biggest self-inflicted damage of the trip: namely, that Bush appears to be overly paranoid about security.
From conversations with folks around the office, what most Brits resented about the visit was the fact that the Bush team was so heavy-handed about security. Now, I know the City is not representative of Britain at large, but I didn't hear people saying nasty things about Bush or regretting Britain's alliance or otherwise opposing the visit. I did hear people complaining specifically about the idea of having American helicopters flying over Buckingham Palace to ensure the President's security. Folks wanted the Americans to trust them more and not to treat them like amateurs when it comes to security. That may be a fair criticism or it may not be. But it doesn't sound like the attitude of people sympathetic to the protesters.
As for that sympathy: unbidden, the cabbie who took me back to my hotel one night asked me if I was American and, informed that I was, proceeded to apologize for the dreadful reception his country was giving our President. He was genuinely ashamed of how Americans back home must perceive British sentiments and feelings towards America after seeing the toppling of the Bush statue in Trafalgar. I reassured him that no one I knew took seriously what these people did, and we proceeded to discuss his plans to visit New York with his family and his difficulty finding an affordable, decent hotel in Manhattan. I do think there are a lot of Britons like him, more embarrassed by their compatriots' behavior than by anything. It's unfortunate that Bush didn't have the confidence to bring them out of the woodwork. It's unfortunate that, to the extent that opinions like Frum's predominated before the visit, they discouraged that confidence.