A special relationship with Mr Obama?

As someone who has in the past been an enthusiastic Atlanticist, valuing our relationship with the USA, I don’t think Mr Cameron should expect or even seek a “special” relationship with Mr Obama. I want us to maintain our close ties with the USA. but think they are stronger at the moment people to people, business to busienss and with a wider range of US actors than the current beleagured administration.

Mr Obama has intensified the war in Afghanistan, and judges his allies by the extent of their commitment to this endeavour. All are found wanting, as his allies do not share his view of the conflict. They also suspect that he is looking for the exit himself. His decision to intensify the conflict and increase the number of US troops was born of his election campaign when his positioning required this statement on Afghanistan. Today it appears that he will need to show progress in bringing the troops home for a future election.

Mr Obama probably belongs to the US school of thought which wants to ring one number to talk to “Europe”. So let him talk to Baroness Ashton all he likes and see how he gets on. She may be amassing an unwanted army of diplomats at our expense, but I am relieved to say she still down not command our troops.

Mr Obama has declared war on BP, and sought to represent this global company as some kind of British destructive force in the USA. The President is getting a reputation for being anti business, and seems to like having a foreign business whipping boy. His interventions have not helped control the leak or deal with the disaster.

Mr Obama has been critical of the policy of controlling large and growing public sector deficits. Just because the USA has so far got away with a high spend high borrowing strategy does not mean smaller countries are able to do, as Ireland, Greece, the Baltic states and others have discovered to their cost.

Mr Obama has lost much of his star dust in the USA. He is now a much more unpopular President than Mr Bush at a similar stage, and faces a difficult fight in the next Congress elections.

At some point the polls will tell Mr Obama he has to revisit his policies in several key areas. How much longer can he go on increasing spending? How far can he take the socialism in a largely free enterprise country? When will he find a new approach to the Middle East? Is his relationship with China good enough to ensure they carry on buying US debt? Is he going to duck being the climate change warrior he promised in the election?

Mr Cameron should speak up for British interests without fear or favour. He should tell the President privately that all the allies need to leave Afghanistan as soon as possible. They should work on a way of ensuring the Afghan forces can take over more quickly. In wartime the US and UK trained many troops in a matter of weeks or months. The idea that it will take another four years to train enough Afghans to patrol their own country is a strange one.It is also unlikely that the west might be able to handle the politics of that difficult country and make a political breakthrough in the next couple of years, given the experience of trying over the last eight.

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24 Comments

  1. Alan Jutson
    Posted July 19, 2010 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    Agreed we do not want a special relationship, we want a good working relationship that is to the benefit of BOTH Countries.

    We should as a matter of policy, wherever possible, try to have as many good working relationships with as many Countries as possible, because that is the sensible way to make progress for all concerned.

  2. Norman
    Posted July 19, 2010 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    Premier Gorbachev may have been head of a Communist country whom we could do business with, similarly President Obama is head of a free market country we can't. He seems hell bent on bringing 'progressive' European socialism to the US.

  3. kevin Peat
    Posted July 19, 2010 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    The precursors to President Obama were Denzil Washington and Morgan Freedman. This was engineered to a significant degree by politically correct forces. There was a high chance that we would all be disappointed once this media savy hybrid was tested in office. I'm glad that the other spiteful, overly-simplistic and anti-British Hollywood creation Mel Gibson is getting his come uppance too.

    So the leakage from Whitehall is that troops will be out by 2014. The only reason for Britain prolonging the campaign to this date that may have withstood any scrutiny – to preserve the 'special relationship' – is gone.

    A truly great PM, a truly couragious PM, a truly patriotic PM would bring home our troops forthwith.

    A truly capable PM would be able to make us look heroic whilst doing so.

    (Please get him to visit an army field hospital theatre)

  4. Stuart Fairney
    Posted July 19, 2010 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    It is amazing how fast Obama went from the Messiah to an out-of-his-depth one termer flailing around helplessly. No need for DC to sorry about him, by Novermber 2012, he will be a footnote in history ~ nothing more.

  5. Robert George
    Posted July 19, 2010 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    "given the experience of trying over the last eight"… how about the last 250 years!

    I agree that we should get out of Afghanistan. The sensible future policy going forward might be to arm the Hazara( the persecuted, Persian speaking Shia minority) against the Pashtun Sunni majority. That would embroil the Iranians in support of their close relatives the Hazara and serve to isolate the Iranians further from the Sunni and Arab world… and it would not cost western lives.

    • Stuart Fairney
      Posted July 20, 2010 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      An interesting idea indeed. We just need to be careful about getting the soon to be nuclear Persians backing one side, and the now nuclear Pakistanis backing the other. It may not end well.

      Question for all readers

      "If you were the Taliban commander, is there any way that you could fail to win if the victory condition, was to remain in the field at 2014?"

      I cannot see how you can lose in such a scenario, Can someone tell me where I have erred?

  6. forthurst
    Posted July 19, 2010 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    The special relationship has always been an egotistical delusion on our part. The US will never favour us over its own 'special interests', its major political donors on foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East, on industriy, particularly demestic oil and gas producers who are currently stalking BP, the recipient of a $20 billion fine, rather larger than that meted out recently to a major financial company and political donor for a major swindle.

    Of course it would be most appropriate for Obama to converse with the Baroness Ashton since they both occupy positions of great titular authority but very little autonomous power.

  7. Bill
    Posted July 19, 2010 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    Not convinced that the Afghanisatization will work.

    In addition now a timeline for withdrawal has been announced I would think that this makes the task near impossible (although I hope I’m wrong) how can you win over the civilian population in a hearts and minds when they know that you’re leaving soon?

    It goes to show that while it’s a proper war for the troops, the politicians don’t regard it as such, proper wars don’t have timetables.

    They may not like the Taliban, but if they think that they will have to deal with them eventually, they won’t support the coalition.

    Maybe a change in strategy from occupying ground to g suspected training camps with Special Forces and air raids, pin pointing specific attacks, as Israel seems to do in Gaza, would be a better way forward.

  8. Ross J Warren
    Posted July 19, 2010 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    I agree with you John, believing that we must not fall into the same trap that Blair did, by offering friendship to the US almost with out condition. The Ideological differences between our two leaders has probable never been more obvious, the importance of us going in the right direction never more vital.

    Obama might well have gotten on well with Blair, as it seems he really is intent on making the US a centralised socialist state with a massive public sector. Having learned our lesson the hard way, we must get behind D.C. and his big society and make it work. Who knows by the time the next US president is installed we may again be singing from the same hymn book rather than that little red book that seems to be the Presidents favorite,

  9. A.Sedgwick
    Posted July 19, 2010 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    I agree totally with your comments. We have a lot of natural association and friendship with people in N.America. One small example is the Open Golf Championship just finished.
    Very young men in 1940 were trained to fly and enter combat in Spitfires in a few weeks. If the Afghans had the same dedication to a free society and democracy we could have left the country by now. They clearly haven't so it is way past time for us to leave. This Government continues to be as clueless as the last one.

    • kevin Peat
      Posted July 21, 2010 at 12:07 am | Permalink

      Pilot training was two years, though the conversion training to fly Spitfires may have been only a few weeks. The actual development of Spitfires took very much longer, especially if we are to include the aeronautical lineage which led up to them. If we are to include the entire technical lineage involved then we are talking hundreds of years to put a Spitfire pilot in the air.

      Which begs the question: does the technological mind beget the free mind or does the free mind beget the technological ?

      Either way there are centuries between us and there lies the impossibility of it all.

  10. Mike Thomas
    Posted July 19, 2010 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    John,

    I completely agree with you, on Afghanistan setting a clear objective of getting out by 2014 will focus the minds of all to get the country into a state where it can look after itself.

    On the economy, Obama is repeating all the mistakes of the Great Depression, throtting the money supply and crowding out private enterprise. The regulatory zeal of the Obama administration completes the triumphvirate of economic maladies that condemned the US to a lost decade in the 1930s.

    BP might be a convienient whipping boy at the moment but the alternatives are wholly unpalatable. The US is a voracious consumer of oil and new domestic supplies must be found, who in the world has the exploration expertise.? BP or say, a Russian outfit or Chinese outfit with a rig parked 50 miles from the US mainland. Very few European operators have the deep pockets to take the risk of a mishap now Obama has banged the drum.

    Suddenly, BP doesn't look so bad.

    To his credit, David Cameron has already stated 'a let's agree to disagree' approach here.

    The easy question here, is who needs the reflected glory of a newly elected leader. Us or them? It isn't us that's for certain.

    Amicable detente is the order of the day and let's face it, that's water off a duck's back for Mr. Cameron.

  11. Javelin
    Posted July 19, 2010 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    Obama's saintly media image will tarnish him just like St Vince cables has. He's currently a disapointment because expectations were so high, and he did nothing to dampen them.

    His handling of the Banking and BP problems has been to seek blame. Similar rhetoric from St Vince this morning calling the banks rip of merchants – criticising their risk taking and lack of willingness to lend in the same breath.

  12. gac
    Posted July 19, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    We have all been taken in by Mr Obama – by his wonderful oratory and the colour of his skin.

    We all forgot that we were also taken in by the similar 'acting' and presentation skills of Mr Blair.

    We cannot therefore complain! Except we were not to know that unlike Tony, Mr Obama has a very thin skin and an obvious dislike of the British.

    He clearly does not treat us as a main ally – and we should not now care less.

    • MartinW
      Posted July 22, 2010 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

      No! Some of us who followed American politics especially the (questionable-ed) machinations preceding Obama's election as candidate and president, were not at all "taken in" by Obama. We were left aghast at the (techniques-ed) that got him to the White House.
      And, by the way, he displays high-flow oratory only when the telepromter is there, and flounders terribly when it is not. What other President wold have a telepromter to talk to a class of young schoolchilden?

  13. John Bracewell
    Posted July 19, 2010 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    I wish there was a way I could stop contributing to the expense that is being amassed by Ashton for EU diplomats in the same way as I have stopped contributing to the Conservatives' expense on potty adverts about gays and coming out as a Conservative (reported recently). Unfortunately, I have no choice in contributing to the EU but I can stop donations to the Conservatives.

  14. Lola
    Posted July 19, 2010 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    Seconded.

  15. Demetrius
    Posted July 19, 2010 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    Sadly, President Obama has all the makings of a lame duck Presidency. If the UK wish to do some good they should take up the serioius pollution and damage in Nigeria and its waters being done by US companies. Perhaps they should compensate Nigeria at the same level BP has to do for the USA. Given the deteriorating state of US internal affairs, Mr. Cameron might be better off staying at home.

  16. Framer
    Posted July 19, 2010 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    Lord Laird has just asked "whether the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has monitored the location and health of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi; whether they have made representations to the Scottish Government about the accuracy of the medical opinions commissioned on al-Megrahi’s cancer condition; and whether they classify the medical reports on him sent to East Renfrewshire Council as confidential. HL1268"

    Let's see what Mr Hague says by way of reply. What is the point of East Renfrewshire council getting medical reports on Megrahi when (a) they were regarded as 'confidential' by Milliband and not even shared with the FCO, and (b) the council has no power to do anything about it anyway? The FCO jobsworths will emphasise the inviolability of 'confidential' medical reports aspect but now that the PM has called his release a mistake they could be more pro-active.

  17. Mike Stallard
    Posted July 19, 2010 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    They are both machine politicians quite comfortable in their suits and from the same kind of background. It would be such fun to be a fly on the wall wouldn't it!

  18. Chuck Unsworth
    Posted July 19, 2010 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    If Cameron has any real sense he'll address himself to the Americans, rather than the President. Then again, it's a difficult enough task addressing the citizens of the UK, let alone the disparate and incredibly fragmented America. But Presidents come and go. How long has Obama got?

  19. Austin
    Posted July 20, 2010 at 12:22 am | Permalink

    As an American from Texas I say here!here! Obama is intentionally toxic to U.S.-British relations. Hopefully, your current PM has a little more spine than the last one.

  20. EJT
    Posted July 20, 2010 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    The US may not know it, but they have elected their 1st. global governance president. The otherwise ludicrous Nobel prize was " welcome to the fold". Trashing the strong bilateral ( nation to nation ) relationships with the UK and Israel is obvious.

  21. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted July 21, 2010 at 5:53 am | Permalink

    How many spendthrift politicians are popular? Not many now, I think.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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