Monday, March 29, 2010 at 6:40 AM
One of the more curious features of the Obama presidency is the way this president has shunned any pretense of a special relationship between the UK and US. It should be noted, however, that this apparent alienation of affection has manifested itself more in style than in substance.
For example, much was made of the way Obama reveled in Europe’s embrace, but practically stiff armed the UK, during his presidential campaign:
[T]he courting of Obama reached a climax in France, where President Sarkozy was anxiously awaiting his arrival like a high-school nerd who scored a date with the homecoming queen. Though, perishing the thought of being shunned, British PM Gordon Brown made quite a public show of waiting with bated breath for his quickie as a thoroughly exhausted Obama paid a courtesy call at No. 10 in London … on his way back to America.
[Beware Barack, don't believe the hype, TIJ, July 27, 2008]
And Obama did little to dispel rumors of a looming rift when he treated PM Brown more like the leader of a banana republic than like a special friend when Brown made his first state visit to the White House:
I remember thinking what an extraordinary snub it was when the White House refused Downing Street’s request to hold a formal press conference between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Gordon Brown after their first formal meeting… This episode was a rather stark departure from the pomp and ceremony that invariably attended the first formal meeting between a US president and UK prime minister.
[End of "special relationship"..., TIJ, September 25, 2009]
The UK could be forgiven, therefore, if it began behaving like a woman scorned. And, based on recent reports in the US and UK about the changing nature of this relationship, one could be forgiven the impression that the media were goading the UK into doing just that.
For on the one hand, the FAC found, among other things, that:
[T]he British media … frequently it indulges in speculation about relations between the Prime Minister and the President…
The perception that the British government was a subservient ‘poodle’ to the US administration leading up to the period of the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath is widespread both among the British public and overseas. This perception, whatever its relation to reality, is deeply damaging to the reputation and interests of the UK…
[U]nder the Obama administration there is a significantly greater degree of alignment with the UK on a number of key policy areas. However, as is perhaps inevitable, there remain some key areas of British interest where policies continue to diverge.
While on the other hand, it concluded, among other things, that:
Recent minor disagreements [i.e., on matters of style] between the UK and US do not in any way threaten the underlying strength of the bilateral relationship…
[T]he UK has an extremely close and valuable relationship with the US in specific areas of co-operation…
However, the use of the phrase ‘the special relationship’ in its historical sense, to describe the totality of the ever-evolving UK-US relationship, is potentially misleading, and we recommend that its use should be avoided.
Frankly, I cannot agree more with the findings and conclusions in this FAC report. But reading what conservative reporters and bloggers in the US are writing about it, you’d think that it’s nothing more than a catalogue of insults by the uppity Obama against the British prime minister; and that it ends with a recommendation for the British government to issue a royal proclamation saying, in effect, “Fuck you too.”
More to the point, though, I presaged this report’s most salient findings and conclusions over six months ago (in the commentary cited above). I noted back then that the phrase “special relationship” is indeed outdated. But I also admonished Obama that it does little to enhance the US’s reputation and interests for him to treat the UK prime minister so shabbily:
[N]o matter Brown’s political motivation, or even how anachronistic and unrequited, for the UK, this notion of the special relationship might be, Obama’s treatment of him reeks of impudence, petulance, and conceit.
After all, no matter Obama’s beef with Brown, the UK remains the US’s most loyal and indispensable ally. And the way Britons have fought and sacrificed alongside Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan all these years is a poignant testament to this fact.
So there’s no denying that the UK and US still have “a special relationship.” It’s just no longer the special relationship it once was.