Arts, Culture & Media

Special Relationship? Behind the Doors of Buckingham Palace


(Photo: White House)

President Obama is in Britain. He and Michelle Obama are staying at Buckingham Palace, no less.

Player utilities

Listen to the Story.

The Obamas and Queen Elizabeth have been firm friends ever since last year, when Michelle Obama and Queen broke protocol and pretty much hugged.

But not everyone in Britain is convinced by the camaraderie. Many Britons don't think Obama values their country particularly highly. And that hurts, because so many Britons greatly admire him – his speeches, his style, his personal history.

Expect Obama to give speeches full of "well-worn Atlanticist clichés waiting to be delivered from the autocue," says Harvard historian Niall Ferguson, who himself is British.

"It's no secret that compared with really all his predecessors since President Roosevelt, President Obama is the least Anglophile President for more than a generation," says Ferguson.

But Columbia historian and fellow Briton Simon Schama says it's impossible to measure anglophilia, even if many try. If being a friend to Britain means "putting milk in his tea," then Obama may fail the test, says Schama.

Britons are "too touchy" whether Obama loves them, according to Schama. "I don't know what he's got to do to suggest he's really as warm and cuddly as his predecessors towards the United Kingdom."

The so-called "special relationship" between the US and the UK has been rebranded for this Presidential trip to the clunkier "not just special but essential." That's really missing the point, says Harvard's Niall Ferguson.

"The trouble is that the British see this in a completely different way from the Americans. The British think they're in a special relationship, but the Americans have quite a few special relationships. And I don't think we're the most special."