Why is George so stingy when it comes to helping Tony? After all, the President owes the British prime minister. Mr. Blair joined him in the unpopular
But that version of the story is too harsh. Mr. Bush is disagreeing with Mr. Blair not because he is a poor friend. He is disagreeing because he is a good one.
Consider the reasons for disagreement, which start with the familiar procedural problem. Yes, during war the
But there are deeper reasons Bush will not back Blair. The
The second reason for Mr. Bush's hesitation, at least when it comes to government-to-government aid, regards efficiency. Since September 11 a pious conviction has overcome the development world. The new belief is that because the stakes are now higher (al-Qaeda, tsunamis), five decades of experience regarding aid and development may now be ignored. In the case of Mr. Blair and Gordon Brown, his chancellor of the exchequer, the view seems to be that it is un-Christian -- ie, unforgivable -- not to spend more on aid. If George can be "Christian", and the new era is a Christian one, well then, Britons can be Christian too.
But here Mr. Bush, so disparaged for his emotional displays of faith, is acting as logically as the most analytic Brit. He is demonstrating awareness that September 11, for all its horrors, does not alter the essential flaw of state aid: that governments use it for purposes for which it is not intended. "When the World Bank thinks it is financing a power station, it is really financing a brothel," as Paul Rosenstein-Rodan, the great economic scholar, once put it. In his first term Mr. Bush therefore created the Millennium Challenge, according to which the
An illuminating report published this past week by a network of international think-tanks -- including African ones -- provides support for Mr. Bush's position. Fredrik Erixon, its author, systematically reviews aid projects of the last half century and finds that heavy aid has correlated with slower growth in
In other words, everybody is being consistent. Mr. Bush is not going along with Mr. Blair in regard to aid because he does not agree with him. Mr. Blair went along with Mr. Bush in regard to
In American eyes, by contrast, Mr. Blair's willingness to defend unpopular positions means that he ranks even higher. Indeed, some Americans rate Mr. Blair above Mr. Bush. When the Pew Research Centre polled citizens in May, they found more Americans believed that Mr. Blair would "do the right thing" in confronting an international challenge than believed Mr. Bush would.
In short, the Blair-Bush alliance is not born out of mutual weakness but rather out of mutual strength. Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair are friends because they have something in common: they both believe in principle. Isn't that the strongest kind of friendship?
Amity Shlaes is a columnist with the Financial Times.