Rory Cooper has drawn attention to the fact that the DVDs that President Obama gave British Prime Minister Gordon Brown during his visit here earlier this month won’t play in Britain. It’s worse than that: Brown is blind in one eye, and is reported to be suffering vision problems in the other. The gift of DVDs was not only cheap and unworthy of the Anglo-American Special Relationship: it was also spectacularly tactless.
Brown’s gifts to Obama, by contrast, showed the dignity and care that statesmen – and especially great allies – are supposed to display. The first edition of Sir Martin Gilbert’s monumental biography of Winston Churchill should remain permanently in the Oval Office, as a testimony to the greatest Briton and the first honorary citizen of the United States. And the penholder fashioned from the timber of HMS Gannet, an anti-slaving ship that served off East Africa, was a reminder of the moral and physical force that Britain and America must combine as they confront their latest totalitarian enemy. Indeed, the penholder may have been Brown’s subtle way of encouraging Obama to show backbone in foreign affairs.
But what has been the most outrageous of all is the State Department’s miserable treatment of the entire affair. While Obama must bear the ultimate blame for the fiasco, the Department’s advice on gifts before Brown’s visit was incompetent. And afterwards, when asked why Brown’s visit had been humiliatingly low-key, the official responsible for planning it responded:
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.
This is a shabby, embarrassing way to treat a great ally that, right now, has 9,000 troops fighting alongside America’s forces in Afghanistan. And it’s historically illiterate: the Anglo-American Special Relationship began 70 years ago, and is the longest and closest alliance between liberal democracies in the history of the world.
Obama says he’s in favor of openness. Here’s the kind of openness we believe in: he should order the official responsible for this ignorant and insulting remark to stand up in front of the media, take responsibility for their comments, and clarify them to make it clear that the relationship with Britain is indeed special to the U.S.