In an odd reversal, President Obama went all out to welcome Britain’s newly elected conservative Prime Minister David Cameron Tuesday at the White House—this, after getting off to a terrible start last year with Cameron’s Labor Party predecessor Gordon Brown. Whereas Brown was humiliated by the extremely low-key reception accorded him by the new Obama Administration in March of 2009—a reception which did not even include a proper press conference—Prime Minister Cameron got the full court press, as well as superlative praise for the “Special Relationship” from President Obama.
Maybe this different reaction is a question of generational affinity between the two leaders; maybe the Obama Administration is actually taking diplomacy more seriously, having seen the consequences of declining relationships with important international allies, from Britain to Central Europe to Israel. Or maybe the White House is awakening to the fact that the United States’ most important international alliance has suffered badly over the first year of the Obama Administration and is in danger of disintegrating. The BP oil spill disaster is but the most recent in a series of discordant notes struck between the two nations; another is the Obama Administration’s refusal to back the United Kingdom on the issue of the Falkland Islands, a part of the United Kingdom claimed by Argentina. On many issues, the British perceive the Obama Administration to have gone from “Yes, we can” to “No, we can’t.”
But Tuesday, all was sweetness and light. From joshing about beer and children’s bedrooms to the state of the alliance, the President was extraordinarily effusive. “Mr. Prime Minister, we can never say it enough,” Obama stated. “The United States and the United Kingdom enjoy a truly special relationship. We celebrate a common heritage. We cherish common values. And we speak a common language—most of the time. We honor the sacrifices of our brave men and women in uniform who have served together, bled together, and even lay at rest together.” Obama stressed the mutual interests of the two nations, hailing the fact that “the United States and the United Kingdom stand together”; and that the United States has no stronger partner, in terms of military commitments in Afghanistan, in trade relations and international investment, and in terms of the common cultural heritage of the two countries.
The Obama Administration is to be commended for somewhat belatedly waking up to the critical important of long-standing allies, who have to be nurtured, and who have been in danger of being pushed aside by U.S. for relationships with new so-called “partners” like Russia. As for the new British government, it must be noted, tacking too far Left in trade, military commitment to Afghanistan, and Europe to meet the Obama Administration halfway is one of the dangers it has to face as the “Special Relationship” is reinvigorated on Obama’s terms.