The Obama administration is not known for its pro-British track record, but this is by far the strongest indication yet that the current White House has little regard for the Special Relationship and its unique role in modern American history. During a White House photo-op with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, President Obama had this to say:
We don’t have a stronger friend and stronger ally than Nicolas Sarkozy, and the French people.
Quite what the French have done to merit this kind of high praise from the US president is difficult to fathom, and if the White House means what it says this represents an extraordinary sea change in US foreign policy. Nicolas Sarkozy is a distinctly more pro-American president than any of his predecessors, and has been an important ally over issues such as Iran and the War on Terror. But to suggest that Paris and not London is Washington’s strongest partner is simply ludicrous. And rather hypocritical after it was recently revealed that the US Ambassador to France had described Sarkozy as “thin-skinned and authoritarian.”
The French president himself is no doubt bemused by President Obama’s warm embrace, not least after making clear his own less than flattering views of his US counterpart in the past. As The Times reported in the early months of the Obama presidency, Sarkozy clearly sees Obama as lacking experience and suffering from delusions of grandeur.
On the US President, Mr Sarkozy said: “Obama has a subtle mind, very clever and very charismatic. But he was elected two months ago and had never run a ministry. There are a certain number of things on which he has no position. And he is not always up to standard on decision-making and efficiency.”
In another swipe at the American leader, Mr Sarkozy was quoted… making a dubious joke about the Obamania sweeping the European media. According to L’Express news magazine, Mr Sarkozy talked to another set of visitors about Mr Obama’s planned visit to the Normandy beaches in June, Mr Sarkozy said: “I am going to ask him to walk on the Channel and he’ll do it, you’ll see.”
There is of course no comparison between the extremely close-knit relationship between the United States and Great Britain, from defence and intelligence ties to economic investment and cultural exchange. It is an alliance forged over the course of 70 years, from the beaches of Normandy to the battlefields of Afghanistan. Today in the war against the Taliban there are more than 10,000 British troops fighting alongside their US allies, compared to 3,850 Frenchmen. Nearly 350 British soldiers have laid down their lives in Afghanistan in contrast to French losses of 53.
These kinds of presidential statements matter. No US president in modern times has described France as America’s closest ally, and such a remark is not only factually wrong but also insulting to Britain, not least coming just a few years after the French famously knifed Washington in the back over the war in Iraq.
Perhaps the White House would like to confirm that this is what the President of the United States firmly believes, or clarify the comments? Either way, this latest remark from Barack Obama will only further strengthen the impression of a president who is both woefully out of his depth on the world stage, as well as contemptuous of traditional friends and alliances.
Originally posted at The Telegraph.