March 14, 2010


Does Barack Obama give a damn about us? (Christina Lamb, 3/14/10, Times of London)

The British feel particularly miffed. Within days of becoming president, Obama removed the bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office. This, followed by Obama’s odd choice of gift to Brown — a box of DVDs including Psycho and Toy Story — prompted speculation of something deeper. In his memoir, Obama writes of how his grandfather was beaten by British troops in colonial Kenya.

A senior official from No 10, who was in Washington in December for Obama’s big speech on Afghanistan, was horrified that the president did not once mention Britain in the 45-minute address despite the presence there of 10,000 British troops.

British diplomats recently complained to the State Department over the handling of the Falklands dispute with Argentina. Although the US position of neutrality has not changed, Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, endorsed the Argentine president’s call for talks on sovereignty while visiting Buenos Aires. A State Department spokesman responded to a question about the Falklands by saying: “Or the Malvinas, depending on how you see it.”

“President Obama seems hugely indifferent to America’s closest ally,” said Nile Gardiner, who runs the Washington-based Margaret Thatcher Centre for Freedom and recently compiled a list of Obama’s top 10 insults against Britain. “I think the special relationship is at its lowest point since Suez in 1956.”

London is not alone in feeling snubbed. In July last year Obama received an open letter from 22 prominent central and eastern Europeans, including Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa, expressing their concern over his policy of wooing Russia.

He managed to offend Poland and the Czech Republic with his clumsy handling of the scrapping of missile defence agreements last September. The announcement, partly to appease Russia, came on the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland.

At the Copenhagen summit on climate change, European leaders expected to have a big say, having led the way on environmental legislation. Instead they were left out of the room while Obama cut a deal with China, India, Brazil and South Africa.

The most recent recipients of the Obama brush-off were the Spanish, who were curtly informed that Obama would not be attending the annual European Union-US summit in Madrid in May, something Bush did. When Jose Luis Zapatero, the Spanish prime minister, came to Washington after the cancellation, he was not even granted a private meeting with the president or vice-president. His only encounter with Obama was at the national prayer breakfast, an event attended by thousands.

What is unclear is whether these issues were mishandled or whether Obama really does not care about Europe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 14, 2010 7:09 AM
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