Why George Bush made the call to Cameron

Why did Dubya make his first foreign intervention since retirement over the micro-politics of Northern Ireland? It can’t have been all down to the magic of Shaun Woodward. On the This Week programme last night ( late on), Andrew Neil’s team remained puzzled. This is the same George Bush who favoured a tougher line than Blair against the IRA and who yet would not accept the argument (if he had ever heard it) that transferring Justice powers is merely dancing to SF’s tune. Bush’s former NI envoy and leading foreign affairs guru Mitchell Reiss says we shouldn’t be surprised. The President was heavily involved throughout and (he implies) was more even handed than Clinton. He was deeply moved by the McCartneys’ campaign. I haven’t nailed down the source (Pete has probably filed it), but I believe we have Reiss to thank along with PD Justice minister Michael McDowell for turning the spotlight on paramilitary criminality, at a time when Blair was still accepting the Adams line of not rocking the Provo boat. Were unionists suitably grateful? Not in Tuesday’s vote. From Reiss’s article

This was the same president who would subsequently overrule his NSC staff in late 2006 when he believed that it would enhance the chances for peace if Gerry Adams was allowed to visit the United States, a policy I supported because Adams had fulfilled his promise to move his constituency to support the rule of law. The decision also showed that Bush would reflexively favor no particular religious, ethnic, or political group (even when it might have been advantageous to do so for domestic political reasons). What mattered most was advancing the cause of peace.

Reiss’s magisterial review of Blair chief of staff Jonathan Powell’s memoir Great Hatred, Little Room endorses the Blair achievement but criticises him for appeasing SF at key junctures when he should have called their “ploy and bluff.” In other words, the post 9/11 Bush administration argued in favour of a harder line than the Brits and took a different stance from the Clinton administration. Autres temps, autre moeurs.

The British government never seemed to ask why any of the Northern Ireland political parties would ever agree on closure when they could always expect to extract more concessions at the next meeting or after the next crisis. As the promise of the Good Friday Agreement gradually receded from view, ongoing paramilitary violence and criminality deepened public cynicism and caused Northern Ireland’s economy to fall further behind the Republic of Ireland’s. Most of my friends in Northern Ireland endured this seemingly interminable process stoically, but I dare say none would recommend the ordeal as a model for other countries.

  • Pete Baker


    “I believe we have Reiss to thank along with PD Justice minister Michael McDowell for turning the spotlight on paramilitary criminality”

    Credit for uncovering that detail should go to Mary Alice Clancy

    As mentioned in this review of Ed Moloney’s biographer of Ian Paisley Snr.

    Even if some are in denial…

    With an honourable mention going to Senator John McCain.

  • The prospect of a UUP no vote has also caused alarm in the US. Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, yesterday pleaded with Empey in a phone call to support the deal. The Guardian understands that the White House was so concerned that the US economic envoy to Northern Ireland, Declan Kelly, also persuaded Bush to intervene source

    Also, let’s not forget the impact of Richard Haass’ finger jabbing of Gerry Adams at their encounter on the day of 9/11. I think that was a major turning point.

  • Drumlins Rock

    I persume Dubya must have owed someone a big favour, unfortunately maybe he should have did his homework more and realised that
    a) the intervention was un-needed as the deal could (and did) go through without the UUP
    B) it would not work and would probably be counter productive, only some sort of last minute concessions from the DUP or even SF to the UUP would have changed their mind.

    So who pulled the strings? and what were their motives, one suspects Labour as most likely in an attempt to embarass the Tories, but possibility it could be from the Irish American lobby on behalf of the southern government might also come into play. Finally maybe is was simply the “special envoy” trying to get a small footnote in the history of the Irish peace process.

  • George was apparently slightly confused about the whole affair:


  • Framer

    Mandelson, Mandelson, Mandelson. Probably through Blair.

  • Drumlins Rock

    well if it was Mandy you can be sure the only reason he did it was to cause embarassment to Cameron, I’m sure during his short stay here he learnt enough about unionist to know a stunt like that wouldnt work.

  • GFASupporterButRealist

    The huge problem here is that George Bush’s phone call to David Cameron was meant to pressure/persuade the Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey to vote with the Democratic Unionist Party this week in the NI Assembly. This was a serious misjudgment. In fact, the call cemented the UU Members of the Assembly in their intention to vote “no” ! Ulster Protestants are very touchy indeed if they think they are being bullied, especially by foreigners and that includes Bush, who played, thanks to Mitchell Reiss, a useful role in keeping pressure on Sinn Fein to recognise the NI police force and disarm and get out of racketeering and killing and bank robberies etc. However, having Bush and SF’-friendly Hillary Clinton, also pushing the UUs, would definitely have got the UUs’ backs up. Talk about counterproductive political moves ! And the UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the former Tory, unctuous Shaun Woodward, pushing too, plus arranging a push-poll in addition, was over the top misjudged political silliness. The pressure had the entirely opposite effect.
    Ambassador Reiss himself is to be commended for his work on NI — he was the best envoy ever in actually bringing about policy change in NI — but he is being too kind about the usefulness of the Bush intervention this time. I note with interest that he really didn’t say he thought it would do any good. Indeed.

  • joeCanuck

    This is all speculation, of course. So, while we’re at it, no US President, current or former, would make such a call without clearing it with the F.O. Otherwise they would stand accused of interfering in the internal affairs of another State.
    Brown will be only too aware of the physical and mental energy that Blair used up during the process And would not have wanted to be in the middle of it especially during a hard to be fought election.

  • ardmaj55

    JoeCanuck On Hearts and Minds last night, Liaam Clarke seemed to be hinting that Reg might do a follow up to last Tuesday and refuse to support Ford for P&J chairmanship. If so, then D’Hont would be triggered and UUP would get it and SDLP would get a second executive seat. Wonder if David \Ford is any relation to General Ford in the Bloody Sunday case.

  • joeCanuck


    I don’t understand. Why would D’Hont be triggered? Will it not simply be a case of cross community majority support under the legislation?

  • ardmaj55

    JC Sorry, I didn’t mean, automatically triggered. I should have put, ‘likely to be used if UUP refuses to vote for Ford. The SF/DUP would have to find a way round that. So, perhaps they would have D’Hont used in that case. Of course, Ford could still end up getting the seat, alas.

  • Alias

    ” Were unionists suitably grateful?”

    It’s supremely silly (and rather poor pro-state/pro-process propaganda) to argue that public representatives should make important decisions based on an ambiguous sense of gratitude to a private citizen in a foreign state rather than base those decisions on the issues or the needs and will of those who elect them.

    I think a problem here is that the Shinners have tried to present the British state’s support for their promotion of British national security agenda as that state following a Shinner agenda rather than vice versa. It is being sold to those supporters as a sectarian victory over the other tribe, and so the other tribe might be buying into that salesmanship to an unhelpful degree –or, at any rate, recognising that their own supporters would not like the other tribe’s supporters to be in a position to gloat about said sectarian victory.

    Unionists however have nothing to fear from US state input since that state fully endorses the legitimacy of British sovereignty and has used its input to promote British national security interests and to ensure that the Shinners bring their supporters to fully endorse the legitimacy of British policing and British law – “a policy I supported because Adams had fulfilled his promise to move his constituency to support the rule of law”.

  • dodrade

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Woodward gets a knighthood from Brown in his resignation honours list, he’s remained loyal to him throughout and just about kept the Stormont ship from hitting the rocks.

  • Pete Baker


    It’s worth noting that Mitchell Reiss says in the article

    This was the same president who would subsequently overrule his NSC staff in late 2006 when he believed that it would enhance the chances for peace if Gerry Adams was allowed to visit the United States, a policy I supported because Adams had fulfilled his promise to move his constituency to support the rule of law. [added emphasis]

    When, of course, he means that the fund-raising restrictions on SF were lifted after the St Andrews Agreement between the UK and Irish governments were published in late 2006.

    The “Special Ard Fheis” on policing wasn’t actually held until late January 2007.

    Not that the vote was in any doubt… obviously…

  • Panic, these ones like it up em.

    Maybe everyone including George Bush is agin the Unionists. George if left to his own devices is just a guy that goes along with the main drag.

    How does a little devide and conquer hurt that ethos ?

  • Gréagoir O Frainclín

    St Paddy’s Day is comin’ up and Bush must be feelin’ a bit sentimental for the old green sod.

    I’m sure the right winger and uber Bush supporter the Harry Flashman agrees with Bush’s actions.

    greagoir o frainclin

  • Alias

    Good spot, Pete Baker. It points again to the special Ard Fheis being convened by the leadership to determine a policy that the leadership had already determined – or, rather, that had already been determined for the leadership by others.

    If I was a delegate, I’d be suing the leadership for my bus fare!

  • Brian,

    this post should have been divided into 2 as the the substantive part (ie the public arse kicking by the Obama administration to the wannabe Tory government and the diminutive Reginald, as is reflected in your headline) and the the old story about Reiss being on Grizzly’s case.

    By bunching these threads together this facilitated further deflection by Pete B. et al about Cameron’s arse kicking which he not suprisingly has some difficulty with. If a good Unionist like myself can take this humilitation of our once proud Unionist tradition then so should my fellow Unionists .