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Bush support 'could hurt Blair'

Schneider: WMD never as key to case for war in U.S. as in Britain.

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start quoteI think anything Bush said probably would backfire, because Bush is not a popular figure in Britain.end quote
-- CNN Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider
special report
Great Britain
United States
George W. Bush
Has Tony Blair's evidence to the Hutton inquiry helped to restore his credibility?

LONDON, England (CNN) -- While Tony Blair's appearance at the Hutton inquiry has put the case for war in Iraq the spotlight, U.S. President George W. Bush hasn't faced the same measure of skepticism that the British prime minister has had to contend with.

For a look at how the Hutton inquiry could reverberate in the United States, CNN Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider joined CNN International Anchor Tony Campion in London. Following is a transcript of their conversation:

CAMPION: It's astonishing from a European and British perspective that there's been so little debate over the war in the United States. How does it feel for someone always looking at it from Washington?

SCHNEIDER: It feels very different over here (in London). In the United States there was bit of a debate over the issue of the 16 words that got into President Bush's January State of the Union speech concerning the effort by Iraq to supposedly purchase uranium from Niger in Africa.

There was bit of stir, but it didn't really amount to anything, and it more or less has gone away. A lot of people in the press say, "What ever happened to that issue?" Weapons of mass destruction simply was never, never as central to the case for war in the United States as it was here in Britain.

CAMPION: The reason we have an inquiry now here is because a top adviser to the government appears to have committed suicide. If that had happened in the United States, would there be an inquiry, would we be going down the same road?

SCHNEIDER: In the U.S. if someone had committed suicide who was involved in making this policy, then you would have a very sensational story and probably this same kind of occurrence would be happening in the United States, because that personalizes the story. And with 24-hour cable news services, they would dwell obsessively on the death, on the family and the circumstances surrounding the death.

Remember a congressman named Gary Condit who had an intern who was eventually found dead but who was missing for month after month after month? Cable news would not let go of that story because there was a death involved. Her family was paraded endlessly across the screen, they wanted to be, because they wanted to keep the story in news to find their daughter.

When there is a personality involved or death, it becomes a sensational story.

CAMPION: I guess President Bush is happy that the news isn't being discussed in his country. Blair must by contrast be disappointed that Bush's biggest ally is in trouble and the president hasn't said anything about it. Some kind of support for Tony Blair from George W. Bush, from a UK perspective, might not have been too much to ask.

SCHNEIDER: I think Bush understands that anything he says would have been misconstrued. I think he's best to stay a distance from this, because this is entirely a British procedure. It has to do with how the dossier was put together. Bush really has nothing he can say about this.

The only thing we know is that the CIA objected originally to the inclusion of the uranium mission in the British dossier and it had to be toned down. But I think anything Bush said probably would backfire, because Bush is not a popular figure in Britain. For Bush to come to Tony Blair's defense would probably create a backlash against Blair.

CAMPION: Polls show that popular support for a continued U.S. presence in Iraq is tending to fall back. Is that a separate issue from support for the war in the first place?

SCHNEIDER: It is a separate issue. Americans continue to believe in very strong majorities that the U.S. did the right thing in getting involved in Iraq. And for that matter a majority of Britons believed that too. But what is creating a problem for President Bush is the continuing deaths of Americans.

The number of deaths since the war was declared over on May 1 now surpasses the number killed in the war. That is creating a problem, because the United States is paying $1 billion a week and losing about a soldier a day, and Americans don't understand what the mission now is, so they're getting a little bit exasperated over this.

It's not the war, they still say it was the right thing to do to overthrow Saddam Hussein. It is, "What are we doing there now?"

CAMPION: Bush is said to be now considering a plan to have U.N. troops under the command of a U.S. officer. A lot of people have been saying that couldn't happen. What do you think?

SCHNEIDER: I think it could happen, but the key phrase is what you said, "under the command of a U.S. official." We are willing to allow others to shoulder the burden, but how much of responsibility, how much control they will have remains to be seen.

Will other countries be willing to participate in the burden if they don't really have any control over the situation? That's going to be a very difficult thing for them.

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