President Obama is in political trouble. He is not having a good war, nor has his handling of the Gulf oil spill done him any favours. His healthcare plans have proved very divisive as well as expensive. Sacking a General worked because he replaced him with a better General, but the underlying chatter revealed problems in the Obama High Command that go wider than one person.
David Cameron’s answer that he wants British troops out in less than five years could act as a useful stimulus to the conversation they need to have in private. They do need to be honest with each other about what can realistically be achieved in Afghanistan by Coalition forces. They need to inject some pace into the transfer of responsbility from our troops to Afghan forces. Mr Obama inherited Bush’s war and made it his own by the surge. He will want to show good progress and take troops out before he runs for re-election. Mr Cameron is wise not to make Mr Brown’s war his war. He needs to be privately realistic about the situation, whilst always offering strong public support for our troops as he has been doing all the time they are at risk in Afghanistan.
The President needs reminding in private that BP is an important US and international company making a crucial contribution to providing oil hungry USA with the fuel it needs. If the President has a better answer to capping the well he should tell us and do it. If he does not, he has to accept that and not raise expectations he cannot fulfil. He also needs to be told that controlling excessive public sector borrowings is essential to economic recovery, not part of the problem. The biggest threat to recovery is a worsening sovereign debt crisis. Actions to avoid default and allow states to meet their obligations are crucial to our future growth.
There is no need for the PM to agree with the President on all matters. This is a time for private truths to be told and new directions to be agreed. By all means smile and be friends in public. That may help both men, but not at any price.