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Blair and Bush as Power Couple in War on Terror

Diplomacy: The prime minister's efforts have proved invaluable to the president, even as he has come under fire at home in Britain.


WASHINGTON — A relationship that began with a quizzical presidential observation that he and the British prime minister shared a preference for the same brand of toothpaste has evolved into one of the more striking diplomatic elements of the war against terrorism: the Bush-Blair connection.

Britain's Tony Blair has taken an upfront role, demonstrating not only his personal outrage over the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks but also the degree to which the Bush White House is relying on him to carry out a role that might otherwise be played by a roving U.S. diplomat.

To that end, Blair was in Pakistan and India a month ago. More recently, he traveled to Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Israel. Last weekend, he hosted other European Union leaders to talk about Afghanistan. He dined Wednesday night at the White House, and, thanks to a chartered Concorde supersonic airliner, he is expected to be back in London in time to welcome Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, today.

At home, Blair has come under fire, getting well ahead of public opinion and his own Labor Party, critics say, with his arm wrapped tightly around a policy set almost entirely in Washington.

But in Washington, the Bush administration sees him as essential to the coalition that the administration has assembled for the anti-terrorism war--not only on the battlefield but also in the banks, as it tries to freeze the hidden assets of Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network.

Blair's aggressive courtship of supporters for the war "illustrates that Britain is essential to us, and reminds us that diplomacy is, in fact, important to this" campaign, said one administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Blair offers a measure of credibility in the Muslim world and Central Asia that a U.S. official, carrying a history of American ties to Israel, might lack, said Greg Treverton, a senior policy analyst at the Rand Corp., a Santa Monica-based think tank.

"He has less baggage in the Muslim world," Treverton said. "This is, for us, a plus."

There have been other special lines of friendship stretching from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. to 10 Downing St. in the years following the wartime friendship of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill: John F. Kennedy and Harold Macmillan got on well, crossing generations and political geography; Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, two conservatives, got on famously.

But Blair's connection to what is essentially a U.S.-run war is unlike any between London and Washington in the post-World War II years.

The prime minister and president are from the same generation, and both are personable politicians, but from far different political wings. Never mind. Listen to President Bush introducing Blair on Wednesday evening as the two began a 15-minute news conference:

"I've got no better person I like to talk to about our mutual concerns than Tony Blair. He brings a lot of wisdom and judgment as we fight evil. . . . He's got a clear vision."

This came from a man who, when asked at their first meeting in February what common ground they had found, said playfully: "Well, we both use Colgate toothpaste."

For Bush, Blair is the personification of the notion that allies must contribute something beyond goodwill. The prime minister may be facing displeasure at home, but he's contributing troops and, Treverton said, demonstrating to others in Europe that "defense means actually doing something."

"It is striking how much out in front he's prepared to be," Treverton said.

Indeed, in the Times of London on Wednesday, Denis Healey, a former defense secretary from Blair's party, and three other members of the House of Lords called for a stop to the bombing of Afghanistan.

"What are the disadvantages of continuing?" they wrote. "More civilians killed; more discord in Pakistan which could end in fundamentalists getting power with nuclear weapons at their disposal; possible overthrow of the Saudi and Egyptian regimes and a general flare-up in the Middle East.

"The longer the bombing continues, the greater the danger, while leaving Bin Laden untouched in his bomb-proof cave," they continued. "We hope our prime minister will join in persuading Washington to stop it."

If Britons woke up to that complaint about their prime minister, later in the day Americans could hear him in Washington brushing aside any suggestion of restraint: "We are completely committed to seeing this thing through," he said at the White House.

Then he and the president headed to dinner.


Gerstenzang reported from Washington and Miller from London.

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