LONDON - The British are understandably mystified. Long accustomed to a "special relationship" with the United States, they are trying to figure out why the latter's likeable new president would be going to such lengths to distance himself from the country that has for generations been America's closest ally.
First, there was Barack Obama's decision to return the Churchill bust that had graced the Oval Office since then-Prime Minister Tony Blair gave it to George W. Bush as a post-9/11 gesture of solidarity. Then, there were the successive affronts during the visit by Blair's successor, Gordon Brown, to Washington last week: A seemingly thoughtless official gift (a set of DVDs of popular American films); a painfully chilly and brief press availability before the start of the two men's private meeting; and no formal joint press conference of the kind Bush afforded Blair on all but one of numerous visits to Washington (the exception a hastily arranged trip right after the September 11 attacks).
The British press has offered several face-saving explanations for these serial rudenesses. Perhaps Obama is "exhausted." Alternatively, he is simply "focused elsewhere" in the midst of cratering capital markets, collapsing automakers and skyrocketing unemployment.
The real answer, however, was supplied by an unnamed State Department official whom London's Sunday Telegraph reported on March 8 "reacted with fury" when asked by the paper why the Brown visit was so, er, "low-key." According to the Telegraph: "The official dismissed any notion of the special relationship. ‘There's nothing special about Britain. You're just the same as the other 190 countries in the world. You shouldn't expect special treatment.'"
Such a comment by a representative of the State Department - an institution that never saw a foreign government it wanted to offend - is a sign of how serious Team Obama is about "resetting" the U.S.-U.K. relationship. Of course, as that term applies to friendly Britain, it means something very different than when used to describe the administration's desire for improved ties with America's enemies, actual or potential, like Russia, Iran and "Palestine."
(Consider, for example, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's tendering to her Russian counterpart a symbolic "Reset" button - one whose label, incredibly, used instead the Russians' word for "overload." This unserious conduct in the face of the Kremlin's increasing aggressiveness at America's expense constituted the most appalling and degrading public spectacle by the top U.S. diplomat since her husband's appointee, Madeleine Albright, danced with North Korean despot Kim Jong Il in 2000.)
Frank Gaffney Jr. is the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy and author of War Footing: 10 Steps America Must Take to Prevail in the War for the Free World .
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