The juxtaposition on our front page this morning is striking. We carry a photograph of Acting Sgt Michael Lockett – who was killed in Helmand on Monday – receiving the Military Cross from the Queen in June, 2008. He was the 217th British soldier to die in the Afghan conflict. Alongside the picture, we read that the Prime Minister was forced to dash through the kitchens of the UN in New York to secure a few minutes “face time” with President Obama after five requests for a sit-down meeting were rejected by the White House.
What are we to make of this? This country has proved, through the bravery of men like Acting Sgt Lockett, America’s staunchest ally in Afghanistan. In return, the American President treats the British Prime Minister with casual contempt. The President’s graceless behaviour is unforgivable. As most members of the Cabinet would confirm, it’s not a barrel of laughs having to sit down for a chat with Gordon Brown. But that’s not the point. Mr Obama owes this country a great deal for its unflinching commitment to the American-led war in Afghanistan but seems incapable of acknowledging the fact. You might have thought that after the shambles of Mr Brown’s first visit to the Obama White House – when there was no joint press conference and the President’s “gift” to the Prime Minister was a boxed DVD set – lessons would have been learned. Apparently not. Admittedly, part of the problem was Downing Street’s over-anxiety to secure a face-to-face meeting for domestic political purposes but the White House should still have been more obliging. Mr Obama’s churlishness is fresh evidence that the US/UK special relationship is a one-way street.
The Telegraph’s front-page story on Sergeant Lockett is here; its story on Prime Minister Brown dashing through the UN kitchens is here.
To my knowledge, the United States has no just cause for Obama’s repeated offenses to Great Britain. Explanation for Obama’s behavior must lie in personal or family feelings that have no bearing on his responsibilities as president and that he should therefore set aside in performing his official responsibilities. Obama’s behavior appears self-indulgent, misguided and boorish or, as Hughes has it, churlish.
To the extent that a private American citizen can render an apology for Obama’s insults, I would like to say that we are grateful for what Churchill called “the special relationship” between the United States and Great Britain and sorry for our president’s behavior.
UPDATE: Was Obama responding to Brown’s role in the release of the Lockerbie bomber? I don’t think Obama’s behavior would be appropriate in any event, but I doubt it.