Saturday, 12 June 2010

Obama's Brit-bashing

From BBC News:
Mr Obama's pithy pledge of finding ass to kick over the environmental disaster, and his pointed references to "British Petroleum", a corporate identity BP has not used in years, have undoubtedly fuelled the impression of deliberate anti-British rhetoric.
My searches on YouTube have yet to turn up a video of Obama himself referring to BP as "British Petroleum", but his Interior Secretary Ken Salazar certainly has:
our job is basically to keep the boot on the neck of British Petroleum to carry out the responsibilities that they have, both under the law and contractually to move forward and to stop this spill.
Norman Tebbit, as usual, did not mince his words:

At least on the other side of the Atlantic the conduct of President Obama over the great oil spill is explicable, even if despicable. 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?

It is time that our American friends were reminded that they sang a different tune when the American company Union Carbide killed many thousands of Indians at Bhopal. Not to mention when the American company Occidental killed 167 people on a North Sea oil rig in 1988.

At the very least, the president might acknowledge that the company directly responsible for the Gulf disaster was American, not British. He may be holding on to some Democratic Party votes, but he is storing up a great deal of ill will that he might regret at some time.

The Telegraph linked this rhetoric to earlier examples of anti-British sentiment in the Obama administration, which began with snubs against Gordon Brown:
Mr Brown handed over carefully selected gifts, including a pen holder made from the wood of a warship that helped stamp out the slave trade - a sister ship of the vessel from which timbers were taken to build Mr Obama's Oval Office desk. Mr Obama's gift in return, a collection of Hollywood film DVDs that could have been bought from any high street store, looked like the kind of thing the White House might hand out to the visiting head of a minor African state.

The real views of many in Obama administration were laid bare by a State Department official involved in planning the Brown visit, who reacted with fury when questioned by The Sunday Telegraph about why the event was so low-key.

The official dismissed any notion of the special relationship, saying: "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."

A month earlier, The Telegraph reported that Obama had returned a bust of Winston Churchill:
The bronze by Sir Jacob Epstein, worth hundreds of thousands of pounds if it were ever sold on the open market, enjoyed pride of place in the Oval Office during President Bush's tenure.

But when British officials offered to let Mr Obama to hang onto the bust for a further four years, the White House said: "Thanks, but no thanks."
I'm not sure whether the move was calculated to offend, or just the result of casual indifference [1], but it seems to me that the "special relationship" has long benefited America more than it has benefited Britain. I don't begrudge the American politicians for acting in America's interests — that is their job — but I find the hypocrisy distasteful.

I long for the day when international relations are no longer mediated by politicians. As Cobden said,
Peace will come to earth when the people have more to do with each other and governments less.
[1] It is possible, of course, that Obama has carefully-considered objections to Churchill's overall record, which was not spotless. If that were the case, I think he would have done better to explain it.

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