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Bush and Blair Under Fire
Last uploaded : Friday 19th Aug 2005 at 23:10
Contributed by : Carol Gould


Two heads of state have come under fire in recent weeks whilst both men have been out of public view and on holiday. Those of us who remember the absence from view of George W Bush and Tony Blair before September 11, 2001 get a slight chill every year at this time. Franklin Roosevelt spent time at Campobello and Churchill at Chartwell, but the recent tradition of what seems to be the ?endless vacation? is worrisome. Some would argue that President Bush and Prime Minister Blair need to relax and be removed from matters of state for an extended period of time, but two events have arisen that make these long hiatuses something of an embarrassment.

A fortnight ago Robin Cook, the former Foreign Secretary who resigned on the eve of the Iraq War and a colleague of Tony Blair?s for a quarter century, died suddenly whilst hill- walking with his wife and friends. To the utter astonishment of many, Blair issued a statement from his holiday base saying he would not be present at the Cook funeral but that he would attend a memorial service in the future.

This became a talking point at many a summer dinner party the following week. Then came the funeral: the legendary racing pundit and eccentrically dressed television personality John McCririck delivered an address in which he accused the British Prime Minister of preferring to snorkel rather than attend his long-standing colleague?s funeral. McCririck, who had enjoyed a long and enduring friendship with Robin Cook, made a stinging attack on the Prime Minister that caused the Cook family to cringe. After the service it was reported that many in attendance had been incandescent with rage at McCririck. One observation he made was that Blair had attended the funeral of United States President Ronald Reagan, whom he had not even known.

What troubles many is the fact that Blair is in power at a time when Great Britain needs healing and a feeling of unity. London is awash with posters calling for a united front against terrorism and against racism and ugly divisions.. What has crossed many minds is that Blair has never forgiven Cook for his fierce opposition to the Iraq intervention and that his decision to forego the funeral is a snub. One of the worst examples of a much-publicised funeral-absence was that of British Chief Rabbi Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks, who would not attend the service for the late and universally-loved ?Moral Maze? star, Rabbi Hugo Gryn of the Reform Movement. Following on this, a letter was leaked to ?The Jewish Chronicle? in which Dr Sacks was reported to have been quoted referring to Rabbi Gryn as a ?destroyer of the faith? in a letter to a Dayan.

One does not need to see leaked letters from Tony Blair to know that he was stung by Robin Cook?s resignation before the Iraq War commenced. Simply stated, one wishes he had attended the funeral. One wishes he had made a conciliatory speech. The nation has been riven by the events of July 7th, with endless streams of newsprint and radio-television punditry about the reasons for Muslim discontent, the most notable of which is the Iraq War. Had Tony Blair attended the Cook funeral, given a speech that unified the nation and shown his generosity of spirit to a troubled nation, he would have risen in the esteem of his citizenry.

In Crawford, Texas, President Bush has been holidaying as he does every year, with breaks for press conferences with Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld. Cindy Sheehan, the grieving mother of Casey, who was killed in Iraq, decided to camp out as close as she could get to the security perimeter of the Bush Ranch and demand a meeting with the Commander in Chief. Bush has been seen driving past her growing encampment of supporters, grinning at one stage with Rumsfeld as his passenger. His refusal to go out to see her has become a national cause celebre and has, no doubt, contributed to the decline in his popularity rating. August was the costliest month this year for American casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention the countless Iraqis and Afghans caught in the increasingly deadly crossfire.

By Thursday of this week the Sheehan encampment at Crawford had quadrupled in size, with Americans from across the huge nation changing their holiday plans and detouring to Texas to show support. Her backers come from every political persuasion, ethnic group and religion, and this week there were several hundred very moving candlelight copycat demonstrations in American cities and small towns. Notwithstanding Sheehan?s irritating and ill-advised diversion this week into the realms of the ?suffering in Palestine,? her plight is poignant and is evoking sympathy from a wide spectrum of citizens across the globe.

The refusal of President Bush to meet with Cindy Sheehan, like Tony Blair?s absence from Robin Cook?s funeral, are indicative of an arrogance and callousness that this conservative and pro-Iraq War editorialist finds dismaying. No Woodrow Wilson, Churchill or Roosevelt are these two flawed men. Even Richard Nixon went to the Lincoln Memorial in the middle of the night to talk to the large encampment of anti-Vietnam war ptotestors. The world is becoming increasingly dangerous and one hopes they will be able to rise to the occasion or there will, regrettably, be more Cindy Sheehans to come.

And if Robin Cook is looking down from a cloud, one hopes he is not too cross with McCririck, who, we believe, spoke a courageous truth, and we pray that Casey Sheehan will rest in peace and not have died in vain.

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