Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Bitter Relations between Britain and Obama

Ever since inaugurated, President Barack Obama has been popular among Europeans who hope to heal the transatlantic rift caused by the Iraq War. However, Britain is an exception. Britain is the most significant contributor to the Iraq and the Afghan Wars since the Bush era. In addition, the British are outraged with Obama’s careless behavior to Queen Elizabeth and Prime Minister Gordon Brown last spring (“Why Won't Obama Honor Our Queen?”; Politics Daily; April 4, 2009). Also, Business Secretary Lord Peter Mandelson criticized the Buy American Clause. Furthermore, Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth complained that Obama could not make a decision to send additional troops to Afghanistan, before the surge.

The Obama administration may not consider the Anglo-American special relationship important. However, since the presidential election, Barack Obama has been insisting that the war in Afghanistan is an issue of high priority in the War on Terror and US national security, and Britain’s commitment to this war is by far the largest among American allies. Therefore, it is valuable to mention viewpoints expressed by British media and experts.

To begin with, I would like to mention British evaluation on the Obama presidency. Robin Niblett, Director of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, talked of American politics under the Obama administration at the panel discussion moderated by Bronwen Maddox, Chief Foreign Commentator of the Times. Niblett graded Obama 8 out of 10, though he said Obama had just started to implement his policy, and not achieved anything yet. Currently, Obama is preoccupied with key domestic agendas, such as passing the health care bill and driving jobless rate down. Therefore, Niblett says that Obama cannot afford to keep his eyes on some international agendas like the Middle East Peace Talk until the midterm election.

One participant asked how Obama repair American reputation damaged by unilateralism under the Bush administration. Niblett answered that Obama has been rebuilding bridges with "enemies" (Iran); adversaries (Syria) competitors (Russia, China); allies (Europe, Turkey, etc), since his inauguration. Despite vehement criticism by British media, Niblett commented optimistically that US-UK relations have been strengthened over Afghan operations and G20 London Summit last April (“Bronwen Maddox live: the Obama presidency one year on”; Times; January 19, 2010).

Some opinion leaders are not so warm to Barack Obama as Robin Niblett. The Economist says that Obama does not assume the responsibility as the commander in chief seriously, and he has not figured out how America should deal with captured terrorists, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran. Moreover, Obama is just appeasing Russia and China without sufficient return for the United States and its allies (“Is Barack Obama tough enough?”; Economist; February 25, 2010).

Regarding bilateral relations, British media and experts are much bitter to Barack Obama. Unlike his predecessor George W. Bush, Obama does not take with us, or against us approaches. Nor does he believe in Senator John McCain’s vision for the world managed by a League of Democracies.

A son of Kenyan father, President Obama is critical to British colonialism in the past, and he sent a Churchill bust back to the United Kingdom from the oval office. More importantly, his policy advisors, such as Michèle Flournoy, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, and Philip H. Gordon, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, are supporters of European integration. However, EU member states give priorities to their national interests when they disagree with Brussels bureaucracy. The cost of disregarding the most reliable ally will be substantial (“Obama Gives Britain the Cold Shoulder”; Wall Street Journal; December 13, 2009).

US Ambassador to Britain Louis Susman tried to placate such worries, and said that the special relationship was stronger than ever. Ambassador Susman mentioned that President Obama respected the leadership of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and the United States was even following Britain in taxing banker’s income (“Special relationship with UK stronger than ever, says US ambassador”; Guardian; 1 January, 2010).

However, Barack Obama outraged the British again, as he kept neutral in the Falkland Dispute between Britain and Argentina this February. Nile Gardiner, Former Foreign Policy Staff to Lady Margaret Thatcher and Director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation, blames that Obama does not respect British contribution to the Afghan War (“The Special Relationship is under fire: Barack Obama’s refusal to back Britain over the Falklands is a disgrace”; Daily Telegraph; February 25, 2010). James Corum, Dean of the Baltic Defense College in Estonia, points out that Obama is utterly wrong to court leftist regimes in Latin America like the Kirchner administration of Argentina, because it is a bête noir in this region. Barack Obama simply hurts relations with America’s most reliable ally (“American neutrality on the Falklands is a symptom of US foreign policy drift”; Daily Telegraph; February 26, 2010).

Criticism rises from the American side as well. Some influential conservative blogs raises serious concerns with Obama diplomacy of appeasement to challengers and disrespect to allies (“The British Aren’t So Special to Obama”; Big Government; February 28, 2010 and also, “The Special Relationship is under fire: Barack Obama’s refusal to back Britain over the Falklands is a disgrace”; Blogmocracy; February 25, 2010).

President Obama has started new initiatives to engage challengers and adversaries, in order to overturn Bush foreign policy, and restore America’s reputation on the global stage. But bitter relations with friendly powers in return will do nothing but harm to US standpoint in the world. The Afghan War is a high priority issue, and therefore, current Anglo-American relationship needs to be reconsidered. Barack Obama’s popularity among leftists around the globe is nothing but Carterian.