Obama and Cameron meeting: British pundits' take


British Prime Minister David Cameron seems a bit overcome by it all during last night's White House State Dinner. British pundits are keeping an eagle eye out for signs that Cameron is succumbing to proximity to the imperial power.


Alex Wong

When British Prime Ministers visit American Presidents pithy analysis flows among the British punditocracy like West Coast wines at a State Dinner.

Most of this comment is focused on the current state of the most over-used cliche in British journalism: "the Special Relationship."

A lot of the speculation focuses on it's dangers: "Is it more "Fatal Attraction" than "Love, Actually?" asked Channel 4's veteran Washington correspondent Matt Frei.

It's the reassurance that America still wants to be BFF as my 6-year old says (Best Friends Forever) that is critical. I don't know why they worry. Since the historical confluence in 1980 of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, there has been only one 4 year break in the love-in. That was during Bill Clinton's first term, when then Prime Minister John Major and Clinton disagreed on how to proceed in Northern Ireland and Bosnia. But once Tony Blair was elected, normal service was resumed.

What I find interesting about this particular visit is how it has reversed what you might expect from British conservative commentators. Most have been deeply skeptical about their man's blossoming romance with the Democrat Obama.

Peter Oborne, a man permanently at odds with the decaying state of the world, writes, in an article that is well worth reading in The Daily Telegraph:

"In recent years, Britain’s allegiance to the United States has led us into two conflicts, Iraq and Afghanistan, which have been our worst military setbacks since Suez. These humiliations might have been worthwhile if the cause was good … This is almost entirely due to the readiness of a generation of British political leaders and security chiefs to offer uncritical adherence to the US."

He adds, "Mr Cameron’s tragedy, like Tony Blair’s before him, is that he has made the pragmatic decision to live with this American barbarism."

Oborne concludes that Cameron, "has very understandably accepted the post-war doctrine of the Foreign Office and the security establishment that our country counts for nothing without a strong relationship with the United States. But this timidity comes with a price."

The Guardian derives a different meaning from the meeting of the two leaders:

"On Wednesday in the White House they buried the neo-cons," writes Martin Kettle. I'm not sure I agree with him. Neo-Con propagandizing for a strike on Iran, or allowing Israel to do it, seems to be having the desired effect if recent public opinion polls are to be believed.

But Kettle notes that neither Obama or Cameron want military action against Iran and that is what he really means by burying the neo-cons.

"A large part of all of us breathes a huge sigh of relief at this," he concludes. "The post-George Bush era finally beckons. Withdrawal from Afghanistan means no more pointless deaths of young soldiers, no more massacres, insults and acts of desecration against Afghans – at least by Americans."

One question from the British point of view that has done the rounds is, what does Barack Obama get out of this? aside from photo-ops at the NCAA tournament and a bit of free air-time on ESPN.

When a BBC producer called me the other morning and asked what I thought the answer was I offered this theory: after three and a half years of dealing with congressional Republicans, Fox News propagandists and the Tea Party, Obama just wants to talk to a sane conservative. Moreover, one who is head of a coalition government with a party called the "Liberal Democrats," the two most demonized words in the Limbaugh/Ailes audience's universe.

Cameron is a Conservative of a Thatcherite bent, but he is sane for sure, and knows that there is no possibility of effective democratic governance without compromise.

I bet the two got on just swell.