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Obama Stiffs the Brits

Obama Stiffs the Brits

By Jack Kelly - March 10, 2009

Americans anxiously watching their 401ks melt away may not have noticed the Obama administration is off to a rocky start in foreign policy, too.

We were told often during the campaign that Mr. Obama would repair relationships with foreign governments allegedly damaged by the "cowboy"diplomacy of George W. Bush. But in his first weeks in office, President Obama gratuitously has offended allies, and has made clumsy overtures -- contemptuously rebuffed -- to adversaries.

Most puzzling has been the back of the hand treatment the president has given to our closest ally.

Most in Britain were ecstatic when Mr. Obama was elected. None more so than Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who hoped proximity to The One would boost his own flagging standing in the polls back home.

It didn't work out that way.

"The murmurs began when President Obama returned to the British embassy the Winston Churchill bust that had been displayed in the Oval Office," wrote Dana Milbank of the Washington Post.

"The fears intensified when press secretary Robert Gibbs...demoted the Churchillian phrase 'special relationship' to a mere 'special partnership' across the Atlantic.

"And the alarm bells really went off when Brown's entourage landed at Andrews Air Force Base," Mr. Milbank said. "Obama, breaking with precedent, wouldn't grant the prime minister the customary honor of standing beside him in front of the two nation's flags for the TV cameras."

It got worse. The White House initially cancelled a joint press conference with the prime minister on account of snow. This explanation was unconvincing to Toby Harnden of the London Telegraph, who noted "there are 132 rooms in the White House at least some of which, presumably, are free of snow."

When Mr. Obama did hold a truncated press availability from which most of the British press were excluded, he went right to questions, skipping the usual words of welcome for his guest. The hapless Mr. Brown didn't even get invited to lunch.

The president's "exceptionally rude treatment" of the prime minister will have consequences, predicted British journalist Iain Martin. "We get the point, sunshine. We're just one of many allies and you want fancy new friends. Well, the next time you need something doing, something which impinges on your national security, then try calling the French, the Japanese, or best of all the Germans."

We may need the help the Brits no longer will be so eager to provide sooner rather than later, because Mr. Obama's overtures to our enemies have been rebuffed.

There will be no thaw in relations with the U.S., and no concessions on its nuclear weapons program, Iran's intelligence minister made clear Feb. 1.

In a "secret letter," President Obama told the Russians he would abandon U.S. plans to put anti-ballistic missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic if the Russians would "help" with Iran. On March 3, Russian president Dmitri Medvedev flatly and publicly rejected the deal.

Earlier, the Russians pressured Kyrgyzstan to deny us the use of an airbase vital to supplying our troops in Afghanistan, though Kyrgyzstan's president has indicated recently he'd be willing to reconsider if his palm is crossed with enough silver.

Since the Brits and the Canadians are the only others besides us doing any heavy lifting in Afghanistan, the slap to the British seems particularly ill timed.

It may have been deliberate. In the first of his autobiographies, Mr. Obama said his grandfather was tortured by the British during the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya in the 1950s. Winston Churchill was prime minister at the time.

If the snub was deliberate, this is remarkably churlish behavior. If it wasn't, it is evidence Mr. Obama is not ready for prime time.

He's not alone. "Hillary Clinton raised eyebrows on her first visit to Europe as secretary of state when she mispronounced her EU counterparts' names and claimed U.S. democracy was older than Europe's," the Reuters news service reported Friday.

Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio.

Copyright 2009, Journal Press Syndicate

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