Uncharacteristic Bush pragmatism

It looks as though British Prime Minster Tony Blair is finally getting his reward for his loyal support of the American-led invasion of Iraq. He has maintained that support at great jeopardy to his position at home.

There was deep chagrin in Britain last month when President Bush came and went on a state visit without announcing any concession on the two issues that have been agitating Britain.

One was the American tariff on steel imports that the Bush administration introduced last year. The World Trade Organization has condemned it as illegal and subject to retaliation.

At his press conference with Mr. Blair on Nov. 20, the president said only that the prime minister had raised the subject two or three times. "It is on his mind. It is on my mind," Mr. Bush said.

By this week the White House let it be known that the president would rescind the steel tariff once he was back from a fund-raising visit to Pittsburgh, the symbolic home of America's steel industry.

The other cause célèbre in Britain was the detention of nine British subjects at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, as suspected "enemy combatants." On this the president, at his London news conference, said only, "We are working with the British government." Apparently to good effect. Word from the White House is that the British detainees will be turned over to the British government to be dealt with by British justice.

The two concessions may help to restore some of Blair's tattered prestige, not only at home, but on the Continent, where his claim to be a bridge with America has been taking a terrible beating lately.

His romance with the American president was made to appear one-sided and soft-headed. The Bush administration, which is often accused of treating its allies like lap dogs, is making two significant concessions at some political cost at home. Yielding on tariffs and British detainees displays a degree of pragmatism not always evident in the Bush administration.

Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.

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