The president and the speech bubble

DOES George W Bush really travel the world in a bubble, as he himself has said?The protesters outside could not be heard as he delivered his speech on Wednesday. But he seemed to know they were there - or at least his speechwriter did.

DOES George W Bush really travel the world in a bubble, as he himself has said?

The protesters outside could not be heard as he delivered his speech on Wednesday. But he seemed to know they were there. Or at least his speechwriter did – it provided him with one of those apparently self-deprecating jokes Dubya does so well.

The president remarked that the last prominent America visitor to Britain was David Blaine, who spent 44 days suspended over the Thames in a box. Then he added: "A few might have been happy to provide similar arrangements for me. I thank Her Majesty the Queen for interceding."

Ho-ho, chuckle, chuckle.

On reflection, of course, it's not self-deprecating at all. Bush may be the butt of jokes around the world, but he never jokes about himself.

The real meaning of his comment was to belittle the people protesting against his visit – as if their anger was no more significant than the petty behaviour of those who threw eggs at Blaine.

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Bush continued: "I've been here only a short time, but I've noticed the tradition of free speech, exercised with enthusiasm, is alive and well here in London. We have that at home, too."

Pause for respectful laughter.

"They now have that right in Baghdad as well."

Now that is too clever to have been written by Bush himself. It is also, as you would expect, deeply cynical.

His audience lapped it up, of course. But then, they would.

The venue for this happy little after-dinner speaking party was a private room in Buckingham Palace, with none but invited guests to hear.

There was no way Bush would be allowed to make the customary address to Parliament. He might have had to deal with hecklers opposed to his barbaric foreign policy.

Tony Blair might be quite adept at dealing with rowdy backbenchers, but poor old George W is not used to meeting people who find his leadership repulsive. His minders must know that if he was forced to depart from his script he would let himself down.

The script itself was one of Bush's better ones. But it didn't play as well everywhere as it did in Buck House.

"He has not given Europeans much reason to believe that he is leaving behind the cowboy, gun-slinging approach. The speech still had that moralistic and preachy tone."

That was Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform.

"There was no indication whatsoever of a change in policy, and that is worrying. He is still focused on the war against terrorism and is still in the same mind-set which has led to the mistakes and failures thus far."

That was Georges Le Guelte, director of the Paris-based Institute for International and Strategic Relations.

"The speech was long on the ideals of democracy and freedom that the coalition intends to bring to Iraq. But it was short on specifics about how to address the rapidly deteriorating security situation and what policies the coalition should employ to avoid a long, bloody occupation."

That was the highly respected Boston Globe, an opinion-forming paper in Bush's own country.

Bush, it should be remembered, is not much more popular at home than he is here.

It took a spectacular piece of election-juggling to get him into the White House against the most lacklustre Democrat candidate in living memory. It must be doubtful whether even that would have been enough to hand him power if the evil aims of the Project for the New American Century had been common knowledge before the election.

I have taken a lot of flak from hard-of-thinking readers who find this column anti-American. Two of the protesters in London this week put my position very well.

Sue Leach, 53, came up from Cornwall to add her voice to the rally. She said: "The British people are not anti-American, not at all.

"I'm just an ordinary British person, a mother, but I really feel strongly that Americans should listen to what most of the rest of the world is saying.

"Bush is presenting America as an imperialist enterprise, and I don't think Americans see their country that way."

Londoner Shane Betts, 28, was among the protesters pushed back by police. He said: "We know Bush won't see us. But we hope the American people see us. Americans need to know just how dangerous we believe this man is."

Indeed so. Since America won the Cold War, there is not much the rest of the world can do to restrain the excesses of the only superpower left.

We just have to leave the cause of decency in the hands of the US electorate – and pray their democracy is up to the job.

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