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The enduring ties of allies

By Wolf Blitzer

President Bush and Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair
President Bush, left, and Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair at the White House on Friday.
Wolf Blitzer Reports
United States
Great Britain
George W. Bush

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- British leader Tony Blair is the first head of government to meet with President Bush since his re-election, a reaffirmation of the long-acknowledged "special relationship" between the United States and Britain.

It's a relationship based on historical, cultural and strategic ties, and on the personal dynamics between U.S. and British leaders going back as far as World War II, when President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill worked together to defeat Nazi Germany.

In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher forged a friendship so enduring, Lady Thatcher crossed the ocean to attend Reagan's funeral this year despite her own delicate health.

In 1990, Thatcher's advice is said to have played a big role in the first President Bush's decision to go to war against Iraq.

Under Prime Minister Blair, Britain has been the United States' most steadfast ally in the current war in Iraq. When the Bush administration wanted to mass U.S. troops outside Falluja, British troops moved out of their relatively peaceful enclave in southern Iraq to replace redeployed Americans.

Some Britons think the "special relationship" is too one-sided, as illustrated by this question for President Bush at today's Bush/Blair news conference.

"Mr. President," the reporter asked, "First, the prime minister sometimes is perhaps unfairly characterized in Britain as your poodle. I was wondering if that's the way you may see your relationship, and perhaps more seriously, do you feel ..."

Blair quickly interrupted, saying, "Don't say yes to that question, that would be difficult," drawing laughs from the crowd.

In last year's hit movie, "Love Actually," a British prime minister played by Hugh Grant is portrayed as a hero for standing up to a womanizing, arrogant American president based, some critics suggested, on the worst traits of both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

Mr. Blair has paid a domestic political price for his staunch support of the war in Iraq, which many members of his own Labour Party oppose.

"They say to me, pained expression, why is our leader so close to such a right-wing ideologue American leader?" asked Jeremy Corbyn, a Labour member of Parliament. "They don't understand it. And it's very damaging."

Standing side by side with the president at the White House, the prime minister offered this explanation for his stance: "We're not fighting the war against terrorism because we are an ally of the United States. We are an ally of the United States because we believe in fighting this war against terrorism. We share the same objectives, we share the same values. And if we look back over our own history, the last half century or more, we both of us in different ways -- the United States and Britain -- have a cause to be thankful for this alliance and this partnership."

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