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.