This story hasn’t gotten much play here in the U.S. (aside from Fox News), but the Brits are pissed. Little wonder. The incident is disturbing because it calls into question the judgment and, I think, maturity of the current occupants of the White House.
On US radio’s Garrison show today, I was asked for my reaction as a true born Englishman to President Obama’s double insult – first the sending back of the Winston Churchill bust, then his snub to Gordon Brown.
“Tough one. Really tough one,” I said, torn – as most of surely are – between delight at seeing Brown roundly humiliated, and dismay at having the special relationship so peremptorily, cruelly and bafflingly ruptured.
Iain Martin is quite right here: no matter how utterly rubbish we have become as a nation in the Blair/Brown years, Britain’s friendship is something Obama will come to regret having dispensed with so lightly. This was not the act of a global statesman, but of a hormonal teenager dismissing her bestest of best BFs for no other reason than that she felt like it and she can, so there.
What was the guy thinking? In researching my new book Welcome to Obamaland, I discovered that Obama’s judgment is pretty dreadful – but this?
My favourite theory so far – suggested by presenter Greg Garrison – was that it was a move calculated to please his Lady Macbeth. At the moment in Britain, we’re still in the “Doesn’t she look fabulous in a designer frock” stage of understanding of Michelle Obama. Gradually, though, we’ll begin to realise that she is every bit the terrifying executive’s wife that Hillary Clinton was. Or, shudder, Cherie Blair.
We may just LURVE Michelle’s fashion sense. But Michelle doesn’t reciprocate our affection, one bit. Her broad-brush view of history associates Brits with the wicked white global hegemony responsible for the slave trade. Never mind that a white, Tory Englishman – William Wilberforce – brought the slave trade to an end. Judging by her record, Michelle does not make room for such subtle nuance.
Whatever the reason, this is flat stupid. The British press is making a big deal of this.
Britain’s PM, Gordon Brown, gave President Obama a couple of very nice gifts as a token of friendship: an ornamental desk pen holder made from the oak timbers of Victorian anti-slave ship HMS Gannet, once named HMS President; the framed commission for HMS Resolute, a vessel that came to symbolise Anglo-US peace when it was saved from ice packs by Americans and given to Queen Victoria; and a first edition set of the seven-volume classic biography of Churchill by Sir Martin Gilbert.
In return, President Obama gave Prime Minister Brown 25 DVDs.
According to the British press:
Mr Brown is not noted for his love of cinema, although he once claimed on a trip to India that he was an admirer of Bollywood.
Either the White House doesn’t know how the game is played — or it does, which is even worse.