LONDON – Despite the threats of massive protests against President Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq, the U.S. commander-in-chief received the royal treatment Wednesday during his official visit to London.
From an early-morning 41-gun salute to an evening state dinner accented by antique silver place-settings and a toast by Queen Elizabeth II, the president was warmly received by top officials of the British government.
"The leadership you showed in the aftermath of the terrible events of the 11th of September 2001 won the admiration of everyone in the United Kingdom. You led the response to an unprovoked terrorist attack, which was on a scale never seen before," said the queen, adorned with a sparkling crown with diamond earrings and heavy diamond necklace to match.
"Your friends in this country were amongst the very first to sense the grief and horror that struck your nation that day, and to share the slow and often painful process of recovery ... Our two countries stand firm in their determination to defeat terrorism."
Donning a white tie and tuxedo, the president offered a return toast, saying both countries are acting together in Iraq to ensure the peace of the world.
"Once again, America and Britain are joined in the defense of our common values. Once again, American and British service members are sacrificing in a necessary and noble cause. Once again, we are acting to secure the peace of the world," Bush said.
Still, the president's opponents made their presence felt on the second day of Bush's three-day visit to England. Small, isolated demonstrations were held around the British capital Wednesday. Noisy demonstrators greeted the president's motorcade as he made his way to Banqueting House for his speech explaining why war with Iraq was necessary and prudent.
Protesters prepared for Thursday's marches, which they promised will bring the tens of thousands of demonstrators.
Acknowledging the protesters earlier in the day, Bush noted they were vigorously enjoying their right to free speech
"I've noticed the tradition of free speech exercised with enthusiasm is alive and well here in London. We have that at home too. They now have that right in Baghdad as well," he said.
He later pointed out that the last American to cause such a ruckus in the city was illusionist David Blaine (search), who recently spent 44 days in a self-imposed fast in an elevated plastic box above the Thames River. For the first few days, Blaine's box was pelted with food and the people jeered at him.
"A few might have been happy to provide similar arrangements for me," Bush said, adding that he was grateful to the Queen for interceding and allowing him to stay at Buckingham Palace (search).
Buckingham Palace on Wednesday night was, in fact, the place to be. About 160 guests, including Prime Minister Tony Blair, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and first lady Laura Bush, dined on halibut and chicken using china and glasses that date back to the reign of King George IV in the early 1800s.
Sticking to the Serious Notes
Early in the morning, Bush was treated to a lengthy display at Buckingham Palace, the first such honor bestowed on a U.S. president since Woodrow Wilson in 1918. Falling between the pomp and circumstance, the president did attend a closed-door meeting with families of British soldiers killed while on duty in Iraq.
Britain has sent more troops to Iraq than any country aside from America, about 9,000, and the British have lost more than any other American ally — 52 deaths since the start of the war.
"The British people are the sort of partners you want when serious work needs doing," Bush said earlier in the day. "America is fortunate to call this country our closest friend in the world."
For the most part, though, the president, whose purpose in his visit is to maintain strong British support for the occupation effort in Iraq, did stay out of the public eye. He went to the U.S. Embassy to meet with employees there and gave an early morning address to scholars.
At Whitehall Palace, Bush defended the U.S. and British mission in Iraq, saying the two global democracies had a responsibility to see the mission through and to quash terrorism where it thrives.
"The evil is in plain sight," Bush told the audience. "The danger only increases with denial. Great responsibilities fall once again to the great democracies. We will face these threats with open eyes and we will defeat them."
The president also defended the path to war, saying Blair, among others, made considerable efforts at the United Nations to find a diplomatic solution to Iraq, but was left with no choice.
In some cases, the measured use of force "is all that protects us from a chaotic world ruled by force," Bush said. "We will use force when necessary to defend the ideals of freedom."
Bush also credited Blair, who has suffered at home for his conviction, for standing by the United States after Bush decided to send British troops into battle.
"The United States and Great Britain share a mission beyond the balance of power or the simple pursuit of interest," Bush said. "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 honor. And American honors the idealism and the bravery of the sons and daughters of Britain."
Bush said the war in Iraq was an example of why militaries must sometimes demonstrate their might.
"On Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists left their mark of murder on my country and took the lives of 67 British citizens," Bush said. In total, nearly 3,000 people were killed that day.
The president stressed that the terror attacks "were not dreams — they're part of a global campaign by a terrorist network to demoralize all who oppose them. These terrorists target the innocent and they kill by the thousands."
But if the terrorists gain the weapons of mass destruction they seek, the president added, "they would kill by the millions."
Bush's speech focused on his "three pillars" for peace and security: that international organizations must be equal in facing the challenges of the word and live up to the policy of multilateralism the Allies have carried out since World War II; to retain aggression and evil by force when necessary; and for countries committed to democracy to help fight terror and spread democratic values.
He also vowed that the United States will not retreat from democratization efforts in Iraq or other countries because of "a band of thugs and assassins," despite the fact that coalition troops in Iraq come under daily attack by fighters.
"The violence we are seeing in Iraq today is serious ... it is the nature of terrorism and the cruelty of a few to try to bring grief and a loss to many."
Leaders Agree to Disagree but Never to Go to Sleep Angry
A repeated refrain emerged several times throughout the day Wednesday — that the United States and its staunchest ally do not always agree on what to do and the way to do it.
Bush acknowledged "good-faith disagreements" between the United States and Britain on the timing of the war and how to go about it.
Blair too mentioned disagreements that may exist between Britain and the United States, but defended the coalition's handling of the situation in Iraq.
"It really is about time we started to realize who our allies are, who our enemies are, stick with the one and fight the other," Blair told the House of Commons, to loud cheers.
At dinner in the evening, the queen also acknowledged differences of opinion between the two allies, but did not make clear what she had in mind, saying only, "Like all special friends, we can talk frankly and we can disagree from time to time— even sometimes fall out over a particular issue."
She added that the depth of the partnership means that disputes can be quickly overcome and forgiven.
For his part, Bush tried to puncture what he says are misconceptions on that side of the Atlantic about America's use of force. He invoked Europe's history of appeasement of dictators, and the price Europeans paid for their governments' inaction.
He reminded Europeans about the critical work the Allies did to set postwar Germany on the path to democracy, a process the Bush administration and the British are trying to accelerate today in Iraq.
"Let us never forget how Europe's unity was achieved," Bush said. "Together our nations are standing and sacrificing ... in a distant land at this very hour."
In a friendly jab at France, Bush noted how a 14-point plan for peace following World War I that President Wilson took to Britain in 1918 was met with skepticism by the prime minister of France, who complained then that even God himself "only had 10 commandments."
"Sounds familiar," he said, referring to Prime Minister Jacques Chirac's staunch opposition of the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
Fox News' Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.