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Gary Younge
American excitement gives way to anxiety and foreboding

But where there once would have been excitement there is only anxiety.

"This is not a prediction but a terrible foreboding," writes David Frum, Mr Bush's former speechwriter who claimed credit for the phrase "axis of evil", in the rightwing weekly The National Review.

"I fear that President Bush's imminent state visit to the United Kingdom is shaping up as one of the worst media debacles of his presidency."

Mr Frum's analysis of the reasons for the dire predictions is not an uncommon view among Americans. "President Bush is not widely popular in Britain," he writes. "He will not receive a warm welcome from the larger British public."

Newsweek goes further: "What Blair needs to do is distance himself from Bush, not hug him close."

But on the cause of Mr Bush's unpopularity and the identities of his detractors, views differ greatly. Mark Steyn, of the New York Sun, puts the forthcoming protests down to "the explosive European streak that remains implacably pro-Saddam, pro-Yasser, pro-jihad, pro-Taliban misogynist homophobes, pro-anyone as long as they're anti-American... As to the derangement of the crowd, they're impervious to reason".

William Safire, a New York Times columnist, blames the "anti-any-war crowd" and "apostles of cut-and-run".

"They are reported to be planning a demonstration, including the great photo-op of pulling down a mock statue of George Bush in front of BBC and al-Jazeera cameras," he writes.

Mr Steyn questions the argument that Bush has most to gain from the visit.

"The notion that footage of Mr Bush riding in a carriage alongside the Queen could be a decisive factor next November is true only in the sense that those pictures of governor Dukakis in a tank were a decisive factor," he argues. "Mr Bush didn't get where he is by playing the palace."

Meanwhile Mr Safire is starching his upper lip for the occasion. "In Britain this week, two statesmen are tying their white ties without pomp in tough circumstances, united in taking the political heat," he writes. "Like the allies they lead, they have been through the wars together."

The last time Mr Bush broke bread with the Queen was in 1992 in the White House when his father was president. At the time he wore cowboy boots embossed with God Save the Queen and asked Her Majesty if she had any black sheep in her family. Mr Bush's mother saved the day by telling the Queen: "Don't answer that!"

But, as Time magazine reminds us: "This time he's the man in charge. Whatever Bush does, Blair will have to live with it."

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