However their talks went in private, President Bush and new British Prime Minister Gordon Brown were clearly on the same page Monday when it comes to dressing. Tieless informality, typically the practice for the president and his VIP visitors at Camp David, was out. Both leaders wore suits and ties, oddly businesslike for the woodsy atmosphere at the presidential retreat--and perhaps a signal that the new British leader isn’t seeking the same buddy-buddy relationship enjoyed by his predecessor Tony Blair.
In the past, it’s been common to see President Bush joined by foreign leaders such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf, and others who, like himself, were wearing open-collar shirts, sweaters, or other informal attire. That was the case during numerous Camp David visits by Blair, Bush’s closest foreign ally. The no-so-subtle message: We’re relaxed, we’re casual, we’re friends.
So, why did Bush and Brown suit up? These sorts of things don’t happen by accident. Camp David may be a presidential getaway, but events are nonetheless painstakingly choreographed. Was it just the proper dress sense of the new prime minister, often described as a dour Scot? Perhaps, but the British were looking for a signal that Brown is putting a little distance between himself and the American president who is so unpopular in Britain. Intended or not, the suit-and-tie summit will be seen that way.
Observes U.S. News’s Chief White House Correspondent Kennenth T. Walsh, author of a book on presidential retreats: “Presidents consider Camp David a very special place--their private preserve--so simply inviting a foreign leader there indicates that Bush is eager to bond, no matter the dress code. Actually, at the top of President Bush’s pyramid of flattery is a rare invitation to his retreat in Crawford, Texas, which he considers his home. If Brown gets on that guest list, it will suggest a very special relationship indeed.”