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Tony Blair Goes to War

In a new book, a British journalist documents the day-by-day march into conflict in Iraq

At 10:15 p.m. London time, the 777 lands amid the featureless suburban landscape of Andrews Air Force Base. The Americans’ first view is of the cleverest men in the British government without a single raincoat between them muttering nervous words about having “only one suit” while rain lashes in horizontal lines over the tarmac. Three military helicopters designated to take the team to Camp David are several hundred yards away.

Eventually, within a wall of umbrellas, the team reaches a bus.

 

THURSDAY, MARCH 27

Morning headlines: Iraq claims 14 civilians killed in Baghdad bombing . . . Tony Blair to meet George Bush at Camp David and Kofi Annan in New York . . .

The prime minister’s cabin is Dogwood, the flower of fidelity. For a man known to his enemies as President Bush’s poodle, this seems a little tactless.

The site of the “press availability” is a tractor barn for Marines. George Bush and Tony Blair are standing in front of a dark-green velvet curtain. Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice sit in the second row. Powell looks as though he is on holiday, Rice as though she were waiting for exam results. President Bush takes measured steps over the thin gray carpet and begins to speak. Tony Blair follows smartly behind.

Loyalty, the president makes clear, is something he prizes. “Americans have learned a lot about Tony Blair over the past weeks,” he says. “We’ve learned that he is a man of his word. We’ve learned that he is a man of courage, that he’s a man of vision, and we’re proud to have him as a friend.” Tony Blair ought to be used to high praise by now, but this is plainly tough going.

The president is more articulate than he is often held to be, but he is not an orator. He talks softly, in snatches, like a nightclub singer, calling out the shared times together of Britons and Americans against Nazis and Cold War foes, their shared determination to “loosen the grip of terror around the throats of the Iraqi people.”

The prime minister gives the more formal piano accompaniment, filling in the gaps and the facts, and flourishing, on his own account, the lines about depravity and executions. He speaks more slowly than usual, matching the president’s beat.

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