LONDON—On an episode of The Simpsons airing tonight, Homer and his family descend on London.
In one scene, the loud American oaf meets British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a longstanding fan of the cartoon series who in real life agreed to read the dialogue for his animated character.
As Blair explains the finer points of tea drinking, an unimpressed Homer pours out his Union Jack teacup out on the carpet. The prime minister then gives him tips on the capital's tourist spots, but Homer later proclaims: "I'm going to act the way Americans act best — unilaterally."
He proceeds to crash a Mini Cooper through the gates of Buckingham Palace and plow into the Queen's horse-drawn carriage, thereby catapulting her into the air.
The British, quite understandably, lock Homer up in the Tower of London.
While Blair was happy to lend his voice to the episode, his aides insisted that trailers for it must not be shown prior to President George W. Bush's state visit, the first ever by an American president, which ended Friday.
Fox-TV, which broadcasts The Simpsons, says Blair's aides wanted to avoid any possible embarrassment, according to a report in the Times.
The fact that Fox-TV and the Times are both owned by Rupert Murdoch means the newspaper probably got the story right.
In the end, Bush came and went without pulling a Homer Simpson.
He did get all mixed up about exactly when to raise his glass for a toast during the Queen's banquet, but even the fiercest bulldogs of etiquette would spare him the Tower for that.
From Bush's perspective, the trip was a success.
The Queen obliged with pomp and pageantry, and he got a chance to clearly espouse his worldview without slipping on any banana peels.
In a major speech on foreign policy, he emphasized his radical doctrine of "preventive war" — striking at potential enemies, unilaterally if necessary, before they can strike the United States.
Unleashed on Iraq, the doctrine, as analyst Arthur Schlesinger Jr. has argued, repudiates the strategy of containment and deterrence that won the Cold War.
Bush lectured European leaders about not forgetting that "Allied armies of liberation and NATO armies of defense" — in other words, American military might — are the reason they're free today.
And when up to 200,000 protesters filled London's streets Thursday to denounce him as a warmonger, the suicide bomb attacks in Istanbul allowed Bush to take the moral ground on which he's most comfortable, separating the world into good and evil.
He made no concessions to the European countries that oppose military doctrine.
But the only audience he truly had in mind was in the United States, and he went home with all the statesmanlike video footage he wanted for next year's election campaign.
For Blair, the results aren't nearly as apparent.
Britain is deeply divided about Bush, and those who reject him do so with venom.
London's mayor, Ken Livingstone, described Bush as the most dangerous man on the planet.
And in a letter to the Guardian, playwright Harold Pinter wrote:
"Dear President Bush, I'm sure you'll be having a nice little tea party with your fellow war criminal, Tony Blair.
"Please wash the cucumber sandwiches down with a glass of blood."
Days before the trip, Blair delivered a speech portraying himself as the bridge between the United States and Europe — particularly France and Germany, the countries that most reject the Bush doctrine.
But the bombs detonated at the British consulate and a British bank in Istanbul — which killed 30 people — seem to have been every bit as decisive for Blair as the Sept. 11 attacks against the United States were for Bush.
Protesters and some commentators described the blasts as the price Britain will keep paying for supporting the Iraq war without U.N. approval. But Blair would hear none of it.
Like Bush, the prime minister vowed to utterly crush the terrorists.
Like Bush, he said freedom and democracy were at stake, elevating the disparate gang of thugs that make up Al Qaeda to the global threat once posed by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.
Like Bush, he vowed to bring "peace and democracy to people all over the world."
When reporters noted that his "special relationship" with Bush won him no concessions on issues such as the lifting of U.S. trade barriers on steel, Blair dismissed such thoughts as petty compared with the values and principles the two partners are defending in the world.
Former cabinet minister Clare Short noted a "messianic" quality in the rambling, almost feverish way Blair answered questions after the bombings.
Tomorrow, French President Jacques Chirac arrives in London to encourage Blair on his shaky commitment to setting up a European center for military planning that is independent of the U.S.-led NATO military alliance.
But Blair seems to have finally, and quite clearly, picked sides.
At the start of Bush's visit, Blair's aides feared British voters would watch the president transform into Homer Simpson.
Instead, voters watched Blair transform into Bush.
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