Rupert Cornwell: A telling insight into the one-sided relationship with Bush

The Independent

Published: 18 July 2006

They are not exactly diplomatically explosive material such as the July 2002 "Downing Street memo", which showed how Britain realised the US had decided to invade Iraq months before the event, no matter what.

Even so, the live microphone exchanges captured yesterday between George Bush and Tony Blair offer a snapshot between an articulate but ultimately subordinate Prime Minister and the verbally stumbling President.

"Yo, Blair," it begins, in that matey tone that Mr Bush is wont to employ, knowing that his interlocutor would never try it on him. Then the President gets down to business, instructing the Prime Minister to "tell Angela" [German Chancellor Angela Merkel] to get a deal on the stalled Doha trade round.

But in terms of startling opinions, this open-mike conversation was not especially revealing, in comparison with some of its predecessors. It mainly confirms that the private Bush is similar to the public one - inelegantly spoken, impatient and accustomed to having his own way. He may have used an expletive to denote his opinions of Hizbollah's attacks on Israel - to "get Syria to get Hizbollah to stop doing this shit". But that sums up Mr Bush's more considered public reactions to the cross-border war between Israel and the militant Islamic group.

And even the S-word expletive was pretty mild by the standard of such things - certainly the "go fuck yourself" dished out by the Vice-President, Dick Cheney, to the Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy in an unguarded moment on Capitol Hill in 2004.

And Bush's words are a far cry from former president Ronald Reagan's to a live mike at the height of the Cold War. "All right, my fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you today that I have signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes."

Instead the world has had an informal glimpse of Bush and Blair at work. As in their joint public performance, Mr Blair seems to have the ideas and the words to express them. "I am perfectly happy to try and see what the lie of the land is, but you need to get that done quickly because otherwise it will spiral," he says at one point, in an apparent offer to travel to the Middle East himself.

No need, Mr Bush responds. "I think Condi [Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State] is going to go pretty soon." The Prime Minister acquiesces, and the point is made. No one is going to upstage the US in the handling of the crisis, and perhaps deviate from an American-written script.