November 19, 2003


Remarks by the President at Whitehall Palace (Royal Banqueting House-Whitehall Palace, London, England, 11/19/03)

It was pointed out to me that the last noted American to visit London stayed in a glass box dangling over the Thames. (Laughter.) A few might have been happy to provide similar arrangements for me. (Laughter.) I thank Her Majesty the Queen for interceding. (Laughter.) We're honored to be staying at her house.

Americans traveling to England always observe more similarities to our country than differences. I've been here only a short time, but I've noticed that the tradition of free speech -- exercised with enthusiasm -- (laughter) -- is alive and well here in London. We have that at home, too. They now have that right in Baghdad, as well. (Applause.)

The people of Great Britain also might see some familiar traits in Americans. We're sometimes faulted for a naive faith that liberty can change the world. If that's an error it began with reading too much John Locke and Adam Smith. Americans have, on occasion, been called moralists who often speak in terms of right and wrong. That zeal has been inspired by examples on this island, by the tireless compassion of Lord Shaftesbury, the righteous courage of Wilberforce, and the firm determination of the Royal Navy over the decades to fight and end the trade in slaves.

It's rightly said that Americans are a religious people. That's, in part, because the "Good News" was translated by Tyndale, preached by Wesley, lived out in the example of William Booth. At times, Americans are even said to have a puritan streak -- where might that have come from? (Laughter.) Well, we can start with the Puritans.

To this fine heritage, Americans have added a few traits of our own: the good influence of our immigrants, the spirit of the frontier. Yet, there remains a bit of England in every American. So much of our national character comes from you, and we're glad for it.

The fellowship of generations is the cause of common beliefs. We believe in open societies ordered by moral conviction. We believe in private markets, humanized by compassionate government. We believe in economies that reward effort, communities that protect the weak, and the duty of nations to respect the dignity and the rights of all. And whether one learns these ideals in County Durham or in West Texas, they instill mutual respect and they inspire common purpose.

More than an alliance of security and commerce, the British and American peoples have an alliance of values. And, today, this old and tested alliance is very strong. (Applause.)

The deepest beliefs of our nations set the direction of our foreign policy. We value our own civil rights, so we stand for the human rights of others. We affirm the God-given dignity of every person, so we are moved to action by poverty and oppression and famine and disease. The United States and Great Britain share a mission in the world beyond the balance of power or the simple pursuit of interest. We seek the advance of freedom and the peace that freedom brings. Together our nations are standing and sacrificing for this high goal in a distant land at this very hour. And America honors the idealism and the bravery of the sons and daughters of Britain.

The last President to stay at Buckingham Palace was an idealist, without question. At a dinner hosted by King George V, in 1918, Woodrow Wilson made a pledge; with typical American understatement, he vowed that right and justice would become the predominant and controlling force in the world.

President Wilson had come to Europe with his 14 Points for Peace. Many complimented him on his vision; yet some were dubious. Take, for example, the Prime Minister of France. He complained that God, himself, had only 10 commandments. (Laughter.) Sounds familiar. (Laughter.)

At Wilson's high point of idealism, however, Europe was one short generation from Munich and Auschwitz and the Blitz. Looking back, we see the reasons why. The League of Nations, lacking both credibility and will, collapsed at the first challenge of the dictators. Free nations failed to recognize, much less confront, the aggressive evil in plain sight. And so dictators went about their business, feeding resentments and anti-Semitism, bringing death to innocent people in this city and across the world, and filling the last century with violence and genocide.

Through world war and cold war, we learned that idealism, if it is to do any good in this world, requires common purpose and national strength, moral courage and patience in difficult tasks. And now our generation has need of these qualities. [...]

Ladies and gentlemen, we have great objectives before us that make our Atlantic alliance as vital as it has ever been. We will encourage the strength and effectiveness of international institutions. We will use force when necessary in the defense of freedom. And we will raise up an ideal of democracy in every part of the world. On these three pillars we will build the peace and security of all free nations in a time of danger.

So much good has come from our alliance of conviction and might. So much now depends on the strength of this alliance as we go forward. America has always found strong partners in London, leaders of good judgment and blunt counsel and backbone when times are tough. And I have found all those qualities in your current Prime Minister, who has my respect and my deepest thanks. (Applause.)

The ties between our nations, however, are deeper than the relationship between leaders. These ties endure because they are formed by the experience and responsibilities and adversity we have shared. And in the memory of our peoples, there will always be one experience, one central event when the seal was fixed on the friendship between Britain and the United States: The arrival in Great Britain of more than 1.5 million American soldiers and airmen in the 1940s was a turning point in the second world war. For many Britons, it was a first close look at Americans, other than in the movies. Some of you here today may still remember the "friendly invasion." Our lads, they took some getting used to. There was even a saying about what many of them were up to -- in addition to be[ing] "overpaid and over here." (Laughter.)

At a reunion in North London some years ago, an American pilot who had settled in England after his military service, said, "Well, I'm still over here, and probably overpaid. So two out of three isn't bad." (Laughter.)

In that time of war, the English people did get used to the Americans. They welcomed soldiers and fliers into their villages and homes, and took to calling them, "our boys." About 70,000 of those boys did their part to affirm our special relationship. They returned home with English brides.

Americans gained a certain image of Britain, as well. We saw an island threatened on every side, a leader who did not waver, and a country of the firmest character. And that has not changed. The British people are the sort of partners you want when serious work needs doing. The men and women of this Kingdom are kind and steadfast and generous and brave. And America is fortunate to call this country our closest friend in the world.

May God bless you all.

The British correspondent they talked to on NPR expressed surprise that President Bush, who he characterized Brits as thinking is brutal and stupid, was so articulate and passionate about democracy. Similarly, we were surprised that Tony Blair didn't actually chew on a lime while addressing Congress.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 19, 2003 2:40 PM

Excellent speech!

Posted by: TCB at November 19, 2003 4:21 PM

A great speech. Funny too.

Whatever you might read or see, remember that many people over here not only support the USA, but understand the reasons for fighting. It only takes a few people to cause a lot of trouble or make a scene - they're not indicative of the rest.

Posted by: Alastair at November 19, 2003 4:47 PM

God go with you, Alastair.

We have a saying here for Britain's conduct of late. We call it "stepping up to the plate".

Posted by: Andrew X at November 19, 2003 5:14 PM

This speech, along with the one W gave to the Endowment for Democracy (or whatever it's called) 2 weeks ago are the finest of his career and the best we've heard from a President in a long time.

Posted by: Foos at November 19, 2003 6:37 PM

Since the European media basically basically glommed all its "facts" about Bush during the run-up to the 2000 election from such unbiased truth-seekers as Molly Ivins and Michael Moore, what other possible image of him could they have expected to come away with?

When you allow a bitter woman still seething about the defeat of her friend's re-election bid for Texas governor and a 350-pound hypocrite who'll write/say anything to sell books and movies to the far left chior to shape your view of GWB, you're going to be suprised that, while he may not be Reaganesque (or even Clintonesque) in his public pronouncements, he's not a drooling idiot.

Posted by: John at November 19, 2003 9:21 PM

Oh my God..... He, he...actually can string a few sentences together. He, he...actually makes some sense.

Time for the Guardian spinmeisters to ramp up into full gear.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at November 20, 2003 2:03 AM

Is he going to have to keep going through this stunned wonder from the press whenever he opens his mouth? When did he ever make a bad one? I don't remember Reagan outpacing him in the rhetoric department (and I think Bush is funnier and more self-deprecating). As for Clinton, the man secreted pompous, insincere newspeak. Where does this Gerald Ford rap come from?

Or maybe I've just had my sense of aesthetic taste numbed by ten years of Chretien.

Posted by: Peter B at November 20, 2003 6:00 AM