This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, July 17, 2003, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.
JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Tony Blair has remained a loyal friend to the Bush administration, even in the face of huge criticism at home. Nile Gardiner is a visiting fellow in Anglo-American security policy at the Heritage Foundation (search). And that is today's big question — Will Blair's U.S. visit help or hurt President Bush, Mr. Gardiner?
NILE GARDINER, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Well, I think it will certainly help President Bush tremendously. It was a superb speech by Tony Blair (search). I think one of the finest speeches given by a British prime minister in modern times.
GIBSON: Why was it so good?
GARDINER: Well, I think it was a speech that demonstrated tremendous conviction, tremendous vision. It was a tremendous display of unity between the United States and Great Britain, the two most powerful nations the world standing shoulder to shoulder in the international war against terrorism, in the war against rogue regimes. And it was, I think, in all ways, a superbly crafted speech.
GIBSON: But do you think it is going to dampen any of the criticism Mr. Bush is undergoing right now or for that matter Mr. Blair is undergoing about the quality of the intelligence and how it was used to justify the war?
GARDINER: I don't think it will make any difference for Blair domestically. However, I think today's speech will certainly strengthen the position of President Bush. I believe it's very important that Tony Blair and George W. Bush present a united front this evening. They are facing intense criticism over the way in which they handle evidence relating to weapons of mass destruction. I think this evening it is important that we see a united show of strength and unity on this.
GIBSON: Why is Tony Blair coming under so much criticism about this? Why is the British electorate so suspicious looking backwards at the evidence that was the underpinning for the war?
GARDINER: Yes, Tony Blair's approval rating at the moment is only about 30 percent, an extremely low figure. Let's not forget that a majority of the British public actually opposed military action against Iraq until the war started. Once the war began, a majority moved in favor. But Tony Blair had to take on, in fact, a huge number of his own [party]. So there was a huge amount of disquiet in the first place about going to war. Blair now is facing a fallout over the issue of evidence relating to weapons of mass destruction. He had to make the case very strongly to the British public on the WMD issue in order to justify going to war in the first place.
GIBSON: Do you think there really is some question about the need to carry out this war?
GARDINER: No, I think that, as Tony Blair mentioned in his speech, that history will look back favorably upon President Bush and Tony Blair. The United States and Great Britain together removed one of the most brutal, evil dictators of modern times and that is a tremendous achievement. Despite the debate over weapons of mass destruction, I think that history will judge these two leaders favorably.
GIBSON: President Bush is coming under tremendous criticism, there is no doubt. And the Democratic candidates who are seeking to be president are making a lot out of it. But it's much more vicious in Britain. They're talking about lies and tricking the public into a war. Is that coming to America? Is that what we're going to hear next?
GARDINER: Well, I think we are witnessing the initial stages of the fallout from what's happening in London, now starting to come down here in Washington. So, I think that President Bush could be in for a very rough ride in the coming weeks and months. But certainly I think Tony Blair's display of support today will strengthen the president's case. Blair has made it very clear that the big issue today is sorting out the future of Iraq, sorting out the future of the Middle East. And we did the right thing by going into Iraq and moving Saddam Hussein from power.
GIBSON: You worked for Margaret Thatcher and she famously said to George Bush the elder, “Don't go wobbly on us, George.” Was this Tony Blair saying to the latter George Bush, “Don't go wobbly on us?”
GARDINER: I think that some comparisons can certainly be made. I don't think that Tony Blair is quite in the same league as Margaret Thatcher (search) or Winston Churchill (search). However, I think that he has adopted a lot of the conviction politics, which Margaret Thatcher was famous for. Blair is, I think, showing some tremendous leadership. And he has made it very clear to the audience today that the United States and Great Britain must finish the job in Iraq. They must see the establishment of a secure, stable, free, and fair Iraqi society. And that is the grand vision which has to be pursued.
GIBSON: Nile Gardiner, thank you very much. We appreciate it.
GARDINER: Thank you.
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