This week's meeting between President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron could kill off the U.S.-U.K. "special relationship" if Obama continues to indulge his anti-British prejudices.
Obama's anti-British views may go back to his childhood. His grandfather -- Hussein Onyango Obama -- was involved in the 1952 Mau Mau Uprising against the British in Kenya. He was caught and sentenced to six months in a brutal high-security prison. Involved in a period of history that was (to say the least) not Britain's finest hour, the experience left the president's grandfather wounded and bitterly anti-British. One can only guess as to the effect this had on young Barack.
Since Obama's inauguration, however, it has been clear that it is largely irrelevant as to whether the sentiment comes from stories heard as a child or from spending his formative years learning from communists and socialists who rarely have a good thing to say about Great Britain. Obama is deeply anti-British and is quite willing to show it.
It started with the infamous case of the Churchill bust. After the events of 9-11, Prime Minister Blair sent President Bush a bust of wartime Prime Minister Churchill. The symbolism was clear -- America came to stand shoulder to shoulder with Britain in our hour of need in the 1940s, and so Britain would stand shoulder to shoulder with America in hers. Blair boldly backed this symbol up with actions, sending thousands of troops into Afghanistan and Iraq, while weak European countries like France (whom Obama loves so much) shied away and stirred anti-American rhetoric. Obama returned the bust the minute he stepped into the Oval office. The symbolism was obvious -- Obama's America does not need Britain anymore. It may be coincidence, but the Prime Minister who ordered the crackdown on the Mau Mau Uprising (and therefore on Hussein Onyango Obama) is none other than Winston Churchill. Rumors that Michelle Obama was also keen to cast aside the symbol of British friendship led to her being commonly referred to by the British right as "Lady Macbeth." Yet since then, the air has turned even sourer. It didn't take a genius to realise that Obama would cool down the relationship with the British -- he is a huge fan of the European Union, and that was clearly where he would place his emphasis in diplomatic relations. Yet his administration has gone from typically childish snubs -- such as Michelle Obama condescendingly treating our Monarch like a cute little old lady -- to outright hostility. Nile Gardiner notes that there has been at least ten major anti-British incidents since Obama took office. In addition to the president not once referring to the "special relationship" in his speeches, failing to acknowledge British sacrifice in Afghanistan, and consistently refusing to meet with the Prime Minister, Obama's administration has refused to acknowledge British sovereignty of the Falkland Islands (where 258 British soldiers died defending it in 1982), mocked the British press, and undermined British influence in NATO by apologizing to France. To top this barrage of insults off, Obama's State Department responded to criticism that the president was ignoring Britain by describing the president as "overwhelmed" and reminding the British that "[t]here's nothing special about Britain. You're just the same as the other 190 countries in the world. You shouldn't expect special treatment."
And then there is BP.
The Gulf Oil Spill was always going to be a sensitive issue for Anglo-American relations. While the British public have no problem with BP being held responsible for any negligence, BP is still an important company in Britain, with many normal, everyday people (not just rich "fat cats") with investments and pensions linked to it.
The president did himself no favors by referring to BP as "British Petroleum" in his crude rants against the company. Considering that BP has not been called British Petroleum for years, this makes the president either grossly ignorant or a partisan xenophobe using the crisis to attack Great Britain.
Many in Britain felt it was a case of the latter, and this led to important figures such as London mayor Boris Johnson describing the comments as "anti-British." Respected former trade and industry spokesman Lord Tebbitt summarized British anger at Obama when he stated,
The whole might of American wealth and technology is displayed as utterly unable to deal with the disastrous spill -- so what more natural than a crude, bigoted, xenophobic display of partisan political presidential petulance against a multinational company?
When Obama's fury was unleashed on BP -- with Tony Hayward being dragged before Congress -- BP's already plummeting shares took another hit. It was clear that Obama was using BP as a punching bag in order to try to prop up failing poll numbers, and many British pensioners, whose pensions are tied up with BP's share price, were being hurt by Obama's opportunism. Obama's boot was not only on BP's throat, but also on the throat of British pensioners. Now, it has been postulated that BP were involved in lobbying the British government to release the Lockerbie bomber in order to secure a £900-million offshore drilling operation. While the decision by the Brown government to release the bomber was extremely unpopular with the public (and a BP involvement would make the situation more sordid), the timing of this revelation (that BP deny) to coincide with BP finally capping the leak makes one wonder whether this is simply the latest excuse to bash the British company. Certainly Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), who once called for sanctions against Great Britain, is already licking his lips, stating that "I'd love to take this case to a jury."
At the moment, these childish attacks by the Obama administration are just hurting the British. Yet they could also hurt the American public.
In the fight against terrorism, Britain and America have worked closely together to prevent attacks. Just last week, details of a second Christmas plot -- this time on New York -- were discovered. The explosives would have flown to America through London, where they could have been stopped had it gone ahead. British and American collaboration has already stopped many potential attacks, most notably the 2006 Transatlantic bomb plot. If that connection was damaged, so may be the ability to prevent terrorism.
Also, Britain's involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq was opposed by many on the powerful British left. It was asked why, when so many other countries were contributing so little, Britain was contributing significant amounts of troops, time, and money to the conflicts. The argument was won by pointing out that because of our special relationship with America, we must stand shoulder to shoulder with our cousins across the Atlantic even more so than any other country. Recent actions by the Obama administration have many asking, "What special relationship?" This means that in a future conflict, British help may not be forthcoming.
What started off as petty snubs from a petulant president has rapidly turned into a diplomatic crisis. If Obama does not play ball with Cameron this week and refuses to back down from his anti-British agenda, America's ability to defend itself from terrorist attacks may be weakened, and its future ability to win wars may be damaged. In short, Obama's deep-rooted prejudices may cost American lives.