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by Michael Winship

Harry Fodder: An Open Letter to England's Prince

A number of years ago, I was attending a film festival in Bristol, England, the official patron of which was Prince Philip. On the closing night, the awards ceremony was delayed and delayed pending the arrival of the royal hubby.

Finally, we were told it would be at least another hour until His Tardiness appeared. As several of us bolted for the nearest pub, I heard one Brit say to another, "The Yanks and Aussies can't understand why we're waiting."

When HRH finally turned up, after much pomp, he apologized for the circumstance. Couldn't be helped, he explained. The Royal Train had collided with one of the royal sheep.

I hate when that happens and I'm sure you do, too.

We republican ex-colonials may mock the British for the monarchy but we're still hooked on their royal family. Just witness the endless morbid curiosity over all things Princess Di. I confess that in London one time my then-wife and I found ourselves dashing breathlessly down Pall Mall to catch a glimpse of a horse-drawn procession that included the Queen Mum and Prince Charles. In that moment, I think we would have endorsed the re-upping of the Stamp Act and the tea tax.

So it's understandable that Washington was all aflutter this week as Her Maj once again graced the city with her august, matronly presence. "Capital Goes Gaga over the Queen for a Day," read the Washington Post headline.

Laura Bush explained to the press that she and Condoleezza Rice had coaxed the president into formal tails for Monday's state dinner, the first such occasion of his presidency. "Dr. Rice and I took it upon ourselves to talk him into it, because we thought if were ever going to have a white-tie event, this would be the one," she said. One imagines the phrase "monkey suit" was involved.

By all accounts, it was an elegant evening, although the guest list leaned more toward professional athletes like Peyton Manning, Arnold Palmer and victorious Kentucky Derby jockey Calvin Borel than the Hollywood and media glitterati usually expected at these wingdings.

Entertainment was provided by violinist Itzhak Perlman, in marked contrast to the state dinner thrown for the queen by President Ford when she came over for the bicentennial in 1976.

That night, I recall vividly, the entertainment was Bob Hope and the Captain and Tennille, who serenaded Her Highness with that ode to romantic rodents, "Muskrat Love" ("Now, he's ticklin' her fancy/Rubbin' her toes/Muzzle to muzzle/Now anything goes...").

All of which was surpassed in one transcendent moment when Ford squired the Queen to the dance floor and the Marine Band struck up "The Lady Is a Tramp."

No such sublime luck this time. The Queen and the President exchanged toasts, each of which denounced international terrorism. "Our alliance is rooted in the beliefs that we share," Bush said. "We recognize that every individual has dignity and matchless value. We believe that the most effective governments are those that hold themselves accountable to their people." This from a man who refuses to listen to an American public begging him to extract us from the morass his White House has created.

The 81-year-old Queen has the advantage of him. "My generation can vividly remember the ordeal of the Second World War," she said in her toast. "We experienced the difficulties of those early postwar years."

This is, after all, a woman who saw the wartime devastation of the London Blitz firsthand. A woman who was a driver for the military and whose children were in the service. A woman whose own grandson, Prince Harry, will soon be on duty in Iraq. None of these experiences or anything like them have been shared by our head of state or his offspring.

Not that this was discussed during her trip. That would be bad form, don't you know. "She is very proud of her grandson and if that came up, it would only be in the family context," Reginald Dale, a senior fellow at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Bloomberg News. "It wouldn't be in the context of a political debate."

The queen, Dale said, "does not have a role in setting policy and is not meant to take political positions."

Too bad. Over the spring pea soup with fernleaf lavender and saddle of spring lamb with chanterelle sauce she might have shared with President Bush some remarks recently made by members of her government.

Last month, in a speech in New York before the Center on International Cooperation, British development secretary Hilary Benn said, "In the UK, we do not use the phrase 'war on terror' because we can't win by military means alone, and because this isn't us against one organized enemy with a clear identity and a coherent set of objectives...

"It is the vast majority of the people in the world -- of all nationalities and faiths -- against a small number of loose, shifting and disparate groups who have relatively little in common apart from their identification with others who share their distorted view of the world and their idea of being part of something bigger. What these groups want is to force their individual and narrow values on others without dialogue, without debate, through violence. And by letting them feel part of something bigger, we give them strength."

Then, last week, the British newspaper The Guardian reported in an exclusive interview with former UK defense minister Geoff Hoon that, "A catalogue of errors over planning for Iraq after the invasion, and an inability to influence key figures in the U.S. administration, led to anarchy in Iraq from which the country has not recovered.

"... Britain disagreed with the U.S. administration over two key decisions in May 2003, two months after the invasion -- to disband Iraq's army and 'de-Baathify' its civil service. Mr. Hoon also said he and other senior ministers completely underestimated the role and influence of the vice-president, Dick Cheney."

Cheney, Bush... with friends like these… In his toast, the president told Elizabeth II, "Our two nations are working together for the common good."

God save the Queen. And us.

© 2007 Messenger Post Newspapers

Michael Winship, Writers Guild of America Award winner and former writer with Bill Moyers, writes for the Messenger Post Newspapers in upstate New York

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Albion Monitor   May 7, 2007   (

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