Bush Heads for Controversial London Visit
J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM)
On the eve of President George W. Bush's three-day state visit to London, the storm of controversy surrounding the trip has reached a new intensity. The success or failure of this high-profile visit is likely to influence Japanese policy towards dispatching its troops to Iraq. If President Bush can successfully project an image of solid British support for his Iraq policy, then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi may feel more confident about dispatching Japanese troops. However, if there is a sense that the majority of British people are opposed to Bush's Iraq stance, then it will be even more difficult for Tokyo to justify sending troops to an already sceptical Japanese public.
For over a week, a fierce debate has been raging in London about the exact details of the security arrangements for the presidential visit, which will virtually shut down some parts of the capital. Millions of Londoners are angry about the disruption that will be caused to their daily travel routines, the increased threat of a terrorist attack during the visit, and the five million pounds plus of taxpayers money it will cost to police the event. The London police will be stretched to their limit with nearly half its entire force assigned to protect the president during his short stay.
Security is further complicated by a planned anti-Bush demonstration that will coincide with the President's time in London. If the contentious visit is marred by large-scale demonstrations, it will further undermine the already politically weakened position of British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Furthermore, it will also damage President Bush as he commences the year-long countdown to the 2004 presidential race.
Prime Minister Blair has spent almost the entire week vigorously defending President Bush, who is unpopular with the British public. A recent opinion survey for the London-based Times newspaper found that 59% of people thought that America's standing in the world had diminished under the Bush presidency.
In the capital, somewhere in the region of 100,000 plus people are expected to protest against Bush's Iraq policy. A giant rally will converge on London's Trafalgar Square, where protesters plan to focus their activities. A group of artists has built a giant statue of President Bush at different locations around the capital. The various parts of this structure will be trucked to the centre of London, where it will be assembled. Protesters then hope to topple the assembled structure in a mock re-enactment of the famous scene in which jubilant Iraqis pulled down a statue of the evil Iraqi dictator in central Baghdad. Nationwide protest rallies are also planned in many major cities.
The timing of the visit has proved to be politically unfortunate for both Bush and Blair who are both coming under increasing fire over the rising number of troop casualties and the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, which was the original justification for the pre-emptive strike on Baghdad. The timing is also bad for Koizumi as the rising death toll of coalition forces makes it more and more difficult for him to take a firm decision on dispatching Japanese troops to Iraq.
Blair's Premiership in Danger over Iraq
Blair's Political Future Looking Dark as Koizumi's Shines
Confident Koizumi Outshines Browbeaten Blair
Related Newspaper Articles
Prime Minister Defends Bush Visit as Poll Highlights Women's Hostilities
Times, 11 November 2003
Bush Visit Creates Security Nightmare
The Times, 11 November 2003
Row over Bush Security as Blair Defends Visit
The Guardian, 11 November 2003
Security Tension over Bush Visit
BBC News, 11 November 2003
Businesses Fret over Bush Visit
Reuters, 12 November 2003
Iraq: The Crumbling Coalition
The Independent, 15 November 2003
Blair Defends Bush Visit
The Guardian, 17 November 2003
Bush Pulls Out of Speech to Parliment
The Mirror, 17 November 2003
Bush Protesters Free to March down Whitehall
ITV News, 17 November 2003