I feel I must apologize for our president. I’ve been hearing press coverage of PM Brown’s visit to the U.S. and it’s discouraging. I finally heard about the visit through the UK Telegraph, and now I’m embarrassed. Granted, from all accounts the “meat” of the reason for Brown’s visit was accomplished, but diplomacy is communication by various means including the use of words, decorum, and going through rituals of tradition, which indicate the state of our relationship with another nation. One of Barack Obama’s promises was to rebuild foreign relationships which had been “so badly damaged” by the Bush Administration. He’s getting off to a bad start (h/t to ArmyWife).
British officials, meanwhile, admit that the White House and US State Department staff were utterly bemused by complaints that the Prime Minister should have been granted full-blown press conference and a formal dinner, as has been customary. They concede that Obama aides seemed unfamiliar with the expectations that surround a major visit by a British prime minister.
A well-connected Washington figure, who is close to members of Mr Obama’s inner circle, expressed concern that Mr Obama had failed so far to “even fake an interest in foreign policy”.
A British official conceded that the furore surrounding the apparent snub to Mr Brown had come as a shock to the White House. “I think it’s right to say that their focus is elsewhere, on domestic affairs. A number of our US interlocutors said they couldn’t quite understand the British concerns and didn’t get what that was all about.”
Mr Brown handed over carefully selected gifts, including a pen holder made from the wood of a warship that helped stamp out the slave trade – a sister ship of the vessel from which timbers were taken to build Mr Obama’s Oval Office desk. Mr Obama’s gift in return, a collection of Hollywood film DVDs that could have been bought from any high street store, looked like the kind of thing the White House might hand out to the visiting head of a minor African state.
How is this a way to treat our closest ally? Obama was much more deferential to the nations of the Middle East than this. I don’t recall the U.S. being this ham-handed with any foreign dignitary during the Clinton presidency, or that of George W. Bush.
Mr Obama rang Mr Brown as he flew home, in what many suspected was an attempt to make amends.
I was aghast at the following:
The real views of many in Obama administration (sic) were laid bare by a State Department official involved in planning the Brown visit, who reacted with fury when questioned by The Sunday Telegraph about why the event was so low-key.
The official dismissed any notion of the special relationship, saying: “There’s nothing special about Britain. You’re just the same as the other 190 countries in the world. You shouldn’t expect special treatment.
After all we’ve been through!!…Again, I must apologize. The UK has stuck with us arm in arm, more than many other nations have, in the War on Terror (as we call it here), and this is the kind of regard we have for them. Shameful. Well at least Obama had kind words to say about Canada, which has helped us out in Afghanistan. Of all the nations I can think of who have been our friends, I feel as though the UK has done the most heavy lifting for us. We should express our gratitude at every opportunity.
Why the slights? It’s being explained here that PM Brown is not popular in the UK. His power is declining, and Obama is not interested in weak leaders. I even heard it’s likely the conservatives will take over Parliament soon. This may be true, but I’ve never heard that excuse before with regard to state visits. When PM Blair was at his lowest popularity the White House still held joint press conferences with him, and the president still talked about our “special relationship” with the UK. When PM John Major’s popularity was only so-so, the White House showed him no less deference, as I recall. I think this reveals a certain arrogance on Obama’s part. What’s striking to me is how liberals are apparently blowing off these slights like it’s no big deal.
Actually, this is not the first time Democrats have put domestic concerns over diplomacy. I can remember not too long ago when they wanted to pass a formal resolution in congress condemning Turkey for the Armenian genocide. What they apparently weren’t aware of was that Turkey was helping us out in critical ways with the operation of the war in Iraq. Maybe they didn’t care. Once the Iraq war turned into a “fiasco” Democrats wanted nothing to do with it. As a result the Democrats were tone deaf on this issue. This is a sore point with Turkey, and at the time it was unwise to anger them.
Over the past few years Democrats have trumpeted how incompetent the Bush Administration was at diplomacy and foreign policy, as if they knew better. Incompetent compared to this?? You must be joking! Obama chided Americans during his campaign for our lack of knowledge about the world, and that the only foreign words we knew were the French “merci beaucoup”. PM Brown offered Obama a gift that had cultural and historical significance, showing that he and his crew had thought a lot about it. Obama offered Brown a set of DVDs. How quaint. I would be embarrassed and profusely apologetic if I were him.
I can’t help but think this latest incident has to do with our nation’s current view of the Iraq war, that it was a colossal foreign policy blunder. For those who have been paying attention it’s known that the UK didn’t just follow our lead into Iraq. PM Blair believed as we did that Saddam Hussein needed to be toppled. Now that we “know better” perhaps there are many in the powers that be who believe our relationship with the UK had something to do with this “colossal blunder”. After all, Bush uttered his famous words about Iraq seeking uranium from Niger, based on British intelligence. The threat of Iraq building nuclear weapons was the primary reason that most Americans think we invaded. I get a sense that there’s a desire to wash our hands of the whole affair, and everyone who was involved in it. It’s similar to the way in which people don’t want to relive the horror of 9/11. I can remember when the movie United 93 came out a few years ago people said they thought it was “too soon” to tell the story. The truth was a lot of us wanted to put 9/11 behind us, in a dark corner where we could ignore it. This sort of denial is never healthy.
Well at least for this American the UK holds special stature. I hope that in the future we will be able to make it up to you.
Edit 3/8/2009: Well this explains a lot. Morris Reid, former Clinton advisor, says “The special relationship (with the UK) is over and dead. It’s a different day.” Gee, I hadn’t gotten the memo.
I’ve been reading some more articles about Brown’s visit and it seems everyone thinks the DVDs were an odd “quickie” or “cheap” gift. A few sharp people made the point, “Better hope the DVDs were Region 2 encoded (European), not Region 1 (American) or else they won’t play.” D’oh!