"Cameron Is a Lightweight": David Cameron Has Made Much of His Rapport with Barack Obama, but His Views on Europe Clearly Left the President-Elect Baffled Reveals James Macintyre

By Macintyre, James | New Statesman (1996), December 8, 2008 | Go to article overview

"Cameron Is a Lightweight": David Cameron Has Made Much of His Rapport with Barack Obama, but His Views on Europe Clearly Left the President-Elect Baffled Reveals James Macintyre


Macintyre, James, New Statesman (1996)


The second-biggest rally addressed by Barack Obama this year, aside from his victory speech in Chicago on 4 November, was on 24 July in Berlin, when the then Democratic candidate for president set our his vision before 200,000 people for a closer alliance between the US and Europe.

Two days later, at the conclusion of his Continental tour, after seeing first Tony Blair for breakfast and then Gordon Brown in Downing Street, Obama met David Cameron, the Conservative leader, in a sunny corner of New Palace Yard at the Houses of Parliament.

The initial part of the conversation was picked up by an American ABC News microphone: an inane exchange, instigated by Cameron, about the need to take regular breaks. "You should be on the beach," said the Tory, with Obama agreeing that "you've got to refresh yourself".

What is not publicly known is that there was less agreement when, soon afterwards, the discussion turned substantial in Cameron's Commons office. Obama began by saying that he hoped to work closely with the EU. But, in a crude attempt to demonstrate his Atlanticist credentials, Cameron went on to indulge in what one source has described as an anti-European diatribe", repeatedly referring to the "anti-Americanism" of EU member states. Cameron apparently told Obama that he would not encounter a more pro-American politician than himself.

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If Cameron thought this would impress Obama, he was wrong. It would appear he had failed to study the multilateralist candidate's Berlin speech 48 hours previously. Obama had condemned "voices that deride and deny the importance of Europe's role in our security and our future", and went on: "Yes, there have been differences between America and Europe ... But the burdens of global citizenship continue to bind us together ... In this new century, Americans and Europeans alike will be required to do more--not less. Partnership and co-operation among nations is not a choice; it is the one way the only way to protect our common security and advance our ... humanity. That is why the greatest danger of all is to allow new walls to divide us from one another."

On meeting Cameron, Obama was, according to diplomatic sources, "distinctly unimpressed", contrary to some reports (excitedly spun by the Conservatives) which suggested that the two men had formed an instant "bond". Instead, I have been told. Obama exclaimed of Cameron after their meeting: "What a light weight!" He apparently also asked officials about Tory Euroscepticism. Soon, word about the rather awkward encounter between the two self-professed candidates of change made its way quietly round the upper echelons of Whitehall.

A widely read, broad-minded internationalist, Obama has long valued Europe and, asked during the primaries against Hillary Clinton to name the crucial US allies, he instantly placed "the European Union" at the top of the list. Perhaps more importantly, on defining international issues such as the invasion of Iraq (unlike Clinton and certainly unlike Cameron), Obama's position was closer to that of mainstream Europe--which, as led by President Jacques Chirac of France, tended to be more "doveish" than "hawkish". …

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"Cameron Is a Lightweight": David Cameron Has Made Much of His Rapport with Barack Obama, but His Views on Europe Clearly Left the President-Elect Baffled Reveals James Macintyre
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