FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
‘Perfect acquaintances:’ readjusting the Special Relationship.
Or, the fundamental gracelessness of the Obama administration.
The Prime Minister’s first official meeting with the new President fell short of the lavish welcomes laid on in recent years.
After intense negotiations with the new administration, Mr Brown got some warm words on the historic links between the U.S. and UK.
Within minutes of landing in a snowbound Washington on Monday night, Mr Brown’s aides had been made aware that their high expectations for the trip were in danger of exceeding the low-key welcome the Obama administration was prepared to offer.
Suggestions that the new President’s crowded diary made it impossible to give more time to Mr Brown rang hollow after it emerged that his other engagements included a routine speech to the Department for Interior and a meeting with the Boy Scouts of America.
Allahpundit is arguing “control issues,” and he’s got several links backing him up. I can see where that might make sense, but honestly: it could just as easily be a situation where he doesn’t simply care that much. Tim Shipman, on the difference between “special relationship” (old formulation) and “special partnership” (new formulation):
A Washington official who is close to several members of Mr Obama’s inner circle said: “They craft every word for the stone tablets. Words are what they do. It is not a mistake.
“A partnership is a business arrangement based on what you can do for Obama, not a relationship like a marriage that thrives through thick and thin until death do us part. He’ll judge the specialness of a partnership with Britain on what he gets out of it.” In return for concrete support, Mr Obama is expected to offer to listen more closely to British advice than George W. Bush did. But insiders say he will be ruthless in cutting adrift countries who do not cooperate with his global agenda, whatever their historic relationships.
A British official said: “I don’t think Obama is steeped in the tradition of the special relationship going back to Churchill and Roosevelt. Of course someone of his generation is going to look at it differently. I think what he looks at are the assets that are brought to the table and the expertise you have. This is a definite change of emphasis.”
But on 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.
Actually, it’s not an either/or situation. I’m reasonably certain that Obama didn’t mean to snub our closest ally (get used to having to hearing variants of “he didn’t mean X” for the next four years, by the way); it’s just that he doesn’t personally care about keeping the British sweet. So his administration defaulted to their usual modus operandi… and his administration hasn’t learned how to fake sincerity. Or how to actually charm people who aren’t enthusiastically ready to be charmed. Or, apparently, how to think ahead.
This administration, in fact, is institutionally remarkably ungracious to its friends, foes, and everyone in between. It’s mostly a combination of inexperience and incompetence on the staff level, of course: he’s got a lot of people working for him who are unfortunately aware of their intelligence, and working under the mistaken belief that enough of it can replace social graces. For right now this is something that the domestic press is unwilling to call him on, but the British press is not quite as reticent, as you can see from the links. Heck, even the BBC is stuck with putting the best face on things that they can.
But this shouldn’t be construed as letting Obama off of the hook. I knew that we’d be dealing with this particular tone when this happened on Inauguration Day…
…and the President never did anything about it. No, he wasn’t obligated to do so; so noted. But there is a difference between what is permitted and what is acceptable, not to mention the difference between those two and ‘gracious;’ and his staff is taking their cues from how he acts.
Which is another way of saying that fish always rot from the head down.
Crossposted to Moe Lane.