I've never been one to particularly care about the the opinions of other countries -- no permanent friends, just permanent interests and all that -- but I am a believer in the principle of never being unintentionally rude.While intentional rudeness has a valuable place in relationships between nations and people, unintentional rudeness is nothing more than poor breeding. It is one thing to walk out of a half day tirade by Fidel Castro or his lickspittle, Hugo Chavez, it is quite another to publicly humiliate an ally of longstanding.
So what happened last week with the visit of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown?
If ever one country has gone out of its way to belittle another, the Obama Administration has done so with the British.
I'm not going to wax poetic on the "special relationship" but I will simply note that time and again, when we've asked for help the British have been there. Naturally, the relationship has also worked the other way with both sides occasionally doing things to help the other that do not necessarily play well at home. Tony Blair's decision to participate in the War in Iraq comes to mind.
The Obama Administration fired its first volley with the return of the famous bust of Winston Churchill to the UK. This bust was loaned to the US at the request of former President George W. Bush and the UK offered to continue the loan to the Obama Administration. Some of us wrote this off to the desire of Obama to be the anti-Bush. The Brits interpreted it a bit differently:
Mr Obama shows little evidence of the Anglophilia that led his predecessors to pepper speeches with quotations from Churchill. Instead, there have been suggestions that he has reason to disdain the former Prime Minister. In 1952 Churchill declared the Kenya emergency in the homeland of Mr Obama’s father, sending in troops to crush the Mau Mau rebellion against colonial rule. Among the Kenyans who were detained without trial and allegedly tortured by the British was Hussein Onyango Obama, the President’s grandfather.
Last week the visit of Gordon Brown was marked by such a number of slights that one has to marvel at the social ineptness of the White House were the slights not deliberate.
For the first time since at least World War II a British prime minister did not participate in a joint press conference with the president of the United states or be feted at a state dinner. Obama was too tired.
Where Brown, seemingly mindful of the concerns about Obama's Kenya heritage, presented Obama with a pen set carved from the timbers of a British warship which had helped suppress the slave trade off the coast of East Africa. In return, he got a set 25 DVDs which may or may not be compatible with European DVD standards. We don't know if The Patriot or Braveheart was in there or not but it would be a surprise if it were not. The snub continued down to the level of the children with the Brown siblings getting models of Marine One, maybe from the White House gift shop. Oddly enough, little of this monument to bad taste was reported in the US press.
I don't know whether or not the fact that Obama's grandfather was inconvenienced by evil Europeans under the leadership of arch-imperialist Winston Churchill was the root cause of this nonsense because when dealing the Adminstration simple stupidity explains a lot of their actions. But one is more and more convinced that the Obama Administration has a deep and personal dislike for Great Britain. According to the Telegraph:
The real views of many in Obama administration 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." The apparent lack of attention to detail by the Obama administration is indicative of what many believe to be Mr Obama's determination to do too much too quickly.
If this type of stupidity, putting our longest and most enduring alliance on the same plane with our relationship with Burkina Faso, is the new foreign policy of the United States we are headed into territory that will make the economic crisis look like a real yawn.