With A Little Help From His Friends
Prime Minister Tony Blair provided welcome diversion in a tough week
By Bruce W. Nelan/TIME
It was the biggest White House dinner of the Clinton
Administration, and it may have been the most fun. Sir Elton
John and Stevie Wonder sang and played, movie stars and
producers glittered and laughed, and everyone danced. The guests
of honor, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie,
stayed until midnight, and the Clintons didn't go upstairs for
another hour after that. While the name Monica Lewinsky must
have been whispered at some of the tables, the gaiety was so
general that Clinton might have been able to forget it for a
Blair did his best to help the President manage that during his
four-day visit. Clinton referred to the "special relationship"
between the U.S. and Britain in his toast at the dinner. It's a
cliche about the countries, but it was just right about the two
leaders. They are, as both said repeatedly, good friends, and
they hold similar views on politics and social problems. "On so
many, many issues," Blair enthused last week, "we think alike."
Although the visit had been planned before the Lewinsky scandal
broke, it was a welcome boost for Clinton. It brought to town a
straight-arrow friend who supported him down the line. On most
big issues the two governments really do agree. Blair made it
clear that British planes would go into battle with the
Americans against Iraq, even if they are the only two nations
willing to do it.
Blair was asked sharply by British journalists at a joint press
conference in Washington whether he thought it was wise to
embrace Clinton so publicly. He did not flinch. He said he was
backing Clinton because he believed in him and it was the right
thing to do. He had found Clinton "someone I could trust,
someone I could rely upon, someone I am proud to call not just a
colleague but a friend."
With Clinton beside him, coolly swatting away scandal questions
with no-comments, Blair stood up under withering British fire.
Didn't he think the private life of officials should meet the
highest standards? Blair replied, "What is essential is that we
focus on the issues we were elected to focus on." What words of
advice was he giving Clinton.? He didn't presume to give advice
at all, said Blair, and the most important thing was to discuss
the big issues of policy. "That's what I intend to do. That's
what President Clinton is doing. And I think he's quite right."
It was almost a duplicate of the little speech the President has
been giving for weeks. No wonder Clinton calls him a friend.
--Reported by Douglas Waller/Washington