OPINION: Camp David love-ins are fraught with pitfalls

One of the conventions of Camp David is that you dress informally.

For chaps, that means open-necked shirts of the lumberjack variety -

hence the 'relaxed' pictures of Tony Blair and George Bush last weekend.

It was, of course, one convention Margaret Thatcher ignored. She always

turned up in the log cabins power-dressed for business, handbag full of

missiles for Exoceting at smug purveyors of 'guff' - apart, of course,

from the laid-back Ronald Reagan.



But there is one constant in the 'special relationship': the quality of

diplomatic drafting, the outward and visible expression of short-term,

tactical PR. This was always going to be tested by the fraught PR

background to the Bush-Blair summit. Last year, Mr Blair backed the

wrong horse in Al Gore. Labour is riven over Mr Bush's plan for an

anti-missile defence shield.



Mr Bush's administration thought it had been sold a pup by Robin Cook

when it got hold of the Nice Treaty and discovered just how much the

so-called Euro rapid reaction force is intended to be divorced from

Nato. And, infinitely flexible though Mr Blair is in his beliefs, he and

Mr Bush, whom Blairites portray as the thick hick from Texas, are not

ideological soulmates.



But nothing would have been served by a Bush-Blair squabble. Mr Blair

doesn't want to go into an election as the wrecker of the 'special

relationship'.



Mr Bush, in need of friends in a wayward Europe, can find none more

promising than Mr Blair, though that isn't saying much. So they had to

be seen to get on. Enter the gentle art of diplomatic PR. I can see them

now weaving their spells just as I saw them 15 years ago when Margaret

Thatcher twice felt she had to head off Mr Reagan's idealistic notion of

a nuclear-free world in connection with Star Wars and then after

Reykjavik when he nearly fell in with Mr Gorbachev's proposed demise of

nuclear weaponry.



So what did short-term, tactical summit PR come up with? Why, this

absolute gem: 'The US welcomes the EU's European Security and Defence

Policy, intended to make Europe a stronger, more capable partner in

deterring and managing crises affecting the security of the

trans-Atlantic community'. That enabled Mr Blair to claim Mr Bush had

backed the EU defence force while Mr Bush could reasonably say later he

had put Mr Blair on probation. If Europe goes its own extra-NATO way

there will be hell to pay.



In return, Mr Blair supported Mr Bush's 'Son of Star Wars' plan for

obstructing and deterring threats from new nuclear, chemical and

biological weapons with both offensive and defensive systems while, at

the same time, strengthening anti-proliferation. All beautifully

balanced to serve two different purposes.



But for how long? That's the problem with short-term, tactical PR. It

can blow up in your face. If it does, the next Camp David will

informally test diplomatic PR to destruction. Watch this space.



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