Saturday, March 7, 2009

Even the Brits Are Catching On...

Remember how President Obama was going to restore our tattered alliances throughout the world? How his childhood abroad, his deep intellect, and his balanced judgment would bring about a new level of American diplomacy? How we shouldn't worried about his lack of experience, his saying one thing about NAFTA during campaign speeches and another to the Canadian government in private, or his touting Kennedy's Vienna summit with Khrushchev as an argument for the power of diplomacy without preconditions, even though Kennedy himself judged the summit a disaster and Khrushchev almost immediately erected the Berlin Wall and went on to place nuclear missiles in Cuba?

And now that Barack Obama is president? The diplomat of hope has already started treating our strongest ally, Great Britain, with what I'm at a loss to describe as anything other than appalling amateurishness, appalling rudeness, or maybe even both:

The murmurs began when President Obama returned to the British Embassy the Winston Churchill bust that had been displayed in the Oval Office since Tony Blair lent it to George W. Bush.

The fears intensified when press secretary Robert Gibbs, announcing British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's visit to the White House, demoted the Churchillian phrase "special relationship" to a mere "special partnership" across the Atlantic.

And the alarm bells really went off when Brown's entourage landed at Andrews Air Force Base on Monday night. Obama, breaking with precedent, wouldn't grant the prime minister the customary honor of standing beside him in front of the two nations' flags for the TV cameras. The Camp David sleepover that Blair got on his first meeting with Bush? Sorry, chaps.

Still, Brown kept a stiff upper lip as he sat in the Oval Office yesterday as Obama, skipping the usual words of welcome for his guest, went straight to questions from the news services. Brown didn't get to speak for six minutes, after Obama had already answered two questions.
As Iain Martin writes:
[O]n this side of the Atlantic the whole business looked pretty demeaning. The morning papers and TV last night featured plenty of comment focused on the White House's very odd and, frankly, exceptionally rude treatment of a British PM. Squeezing in a meeting, denying him a full press conference with flags etc. The British press corps, left outside for an hour in the cold, can take it and their privations are of limited concern to the public.

But Obama's merely warmish words (one of our closest allies, said with little sincerity or passion) left a bitter taste with this Atlanticist. Especially after his team had made Number 10 beg for a mini press conference and then not even offered the PM lunch.

We get the point, sunshine: we're just one of many allies and you want fancy new friends. Well, the next time you need something doing, something which impinges on your national security, then try calling the French, or the Japanese, or best of all the Germans. The French will be able to offer you first rate support from their catering corps but beyond that you'll be on your own.

When it comes to men, munitions and commitment you'll soon find out why it pays to at least treat the Brits with some manners.
Even worse, Prime Minister Brown came bearing gifts:
The Prime Minister gave Mr Obama an ornamental pen holder made from the timbers of the Victorian anti-slave ship HMS Gannet. . . . Mr Brown also handed over a framed commission for HMS Resolute and a first edition of the seven-volume biography of Churchill by Sir Martin Gilbert.
And what did the President of the United States, the leader of the Free World, give to the Prime Minister of the nation that has stood by us not only in Afghanistan but also in Iraq? The nation that has been an ally like no other through Democratic and Republican administrations alike?

A 25-DVD box set of awesome American movies.

No, I'm sorry. A 25-DVD box set of "classic American films."

Gordon Brown gives Barack Obama a pen made from the wood of a ship that helped end the slave trade, and Barack Obama gives Gordon Brown a copy of The Godfather.

There's a parable in there, somewhere.

And a silver lining. After all, considering the difference in price between a regular DVD and a Blu-Ray DVD, President Obama just "cut" the federal deficit by almost $200! (Math is easy!)