Washington The process is drearily familiar from the plots of countless tawdry novels. Opposites attract: two unlikely people begin a passionate affair. Friends all warn them that it cannot last. The friends are ignored as the lovers stand magnificently alone against an uncomprehending world. Then the first trace of an unfamiliar lipstick is found on a collar, and breezily explained away. Someone else’s earring is found in a suitcase after a business trip and laughed off as a colleague’s practical joke. But suspicions have been roused. Doubts creep in. Headaches are pleaded. What was once charming starts to irritate. Never glad confident morning again. The improbable partnership of George Bush and Tony Blair, born when they shared toothpaste during their first meeting at Camp David and sealed in blood and victory in Iraq, is running into just this kind of trouble. Once they seemed inseparable, the Lone Ranger and Tonto of international affairs, or perhaps the Don Quixote and Sancho Panza of the War on Terrorism. Their partnership stirred fading memories of Reagan and Thatcher, Roosevelt and Churchill as the Anglo-Saxons marched once more to battle. It was never quite convincing. There was something embarrassingly token about that American gesture, allowing a British submarine to fire off a volley of (American-built) cruise missiles to help open the war against the Taleban. Even as Blair was brushing off the domestic taunts about being Bush’s poodle, the defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld noted with a bluntly casual honesty that America could handle everything in Iraq, irrespective of the British army, which was sent to war lacking desert boots and a change of camouflage clothing. Still, it was felt in Downing Street and in the White House that the Brits mattered, that this was a country punching well above its weight in the global championships, a country that singlehandedly belied those neocon jibes about virile Americans being from Mars while the epicene Europeans limped in from Venus.