LONDON (Reuters) - President George W Bush wrote a lengthy tribute to Prime Minister Tony Blair on his last day in power on Wednesday, describing him as “a strong guy” and dismissing claims that the British leader acted as his “poodle.”
In a two page special in Britain’s biggest-selling daily tabloid, The Sun, Bush said he had “selfishly” asked Blair — who is handing over power to his former finance minister Gordon Brown — to stay on until he left the White House.
But Bush said Blair has always been “very gracious” about his successor, and when Brown came to visit him in Washington, he “wasn’t the image of the dour Scotsman at all.”
Blair, who ends his 10-year British premiership more popular in the United States than he is at home, forged an ultimately close partnership with Bush over the issue of Iraq, which the allies invaded in March 2003 to unseat Saddam Hussein.
Bush and Blair had originally seemed an unlikely pairing — particularly with Bush following Blair’s natural ally, Bill Clinton, into the White House.
But despite one being a rather brash, right-wing Texan and the other a more subdued Brit with socialist roots, Bush said the two men were united and firm in their partnership.
“We’ve served together during a time of war and shared the same determination to succeed. We analyzed the enemy the same way and found each other in the same foxhole,” Bush told The Sun.
He added he thought Iraq would “turn out to be a positive legacy for us both.”
Asked about the criticism Blair has faced at home and across the world for supporting the Iraq invasion, Bush said he had tried to “buck him up as a friend” but insisted Blair had acted according to his own mind.
“I’ve heard he’s been called ‘Bush’s poodle’. He’s bigger than that,” he said. “We’re working together to achieve global peace in the face of enormous danger. This kind of thing is just silly ridicule.”
“Somehow our relationship has been seen as Bush saying to Blair, ‘jump’ and Blair saying, ‘how high?’. But that’s just not the way it works. It’s a relationship where we say we’re both going to jump together.”
Bush described Blair as “very articulate” and admitted to coveting his oratory skills.
“I wish I was a better speaker. This guy can really... he can talk!,” Bush said.
“We have very different speaking styles, of course. He’s much more kind of lofty and eloquent than I am. I tend to be just pretty matter of fact.”