Mix of Personal Affinity and Realpolitik Works Both Ways; as Prime Minister David Cameron Last Night Rounded off His US Trip with a Visit to Ground Zero, Political Editor David Williamson Assesses the State of the Britain's 'Special Relationship' with America
DAVID CAMERON was photographed this week at the home of a former community organiser under threat of eviction. But President Barack Obama did not look like a man who is worried that Republican hordes are about to oust him from the White House.
For months, the Democrat president has watched potential Republican challengers denigrate one another's fitness to lead the military superpower. Meanwhile, the ineffably cool president is frequently photographed meeting world leaders, such as Mr Cameron.
Mr Obama's foes regularly claim he has let relations deteriorate with traditional allies. What better way to prove them wrong - and garner votes - than be photographed with the British premier at a basketball game in the crucial swing-state of Ohio? Mr Obama is known for shunning cocktail parties and preferring to dine with his wife and two young daughters rather than preside over black-tie dinners.
But he charm-bombed the Conservative leader and the two men appeared to enjoy a genuine rapport.
Like an ageing trophy spouse on the arm of a billionaire, Britain has periodic worries that America now looks at other countries with greater ardor.
In January last year Mr Obama told an audience that "we don't have a stronger friend and stronger ally than Nicolas Sarkozy and the French people".
The semantics of this utterance were carefully debated. Commentators concluded he was not saying that France was a stronger friend than the UK - just as strong.
Britain responded by rolling out the reddest carpet in the land. The president addressed both houses of parliament in Westminster Hall during last year's state visit. This is an honour normally reserved for monarchs, popes and Nelson Mandela, and Mr Obama delivered his oration with infallible precision.
The excitement with which politicians of every hue then clasped the president seemed a fusion of religious devotion and Beatlemania. This politician whose poll ratings suggested he was rather unloved in his own country still had a legion of roaring fans in a former imperial power on the other side of the Atlantic.
This week, Mr Obama described America's relationship with the UK as "essential", "indispensable" and "the strongest that it has ever been".
"What do you think of that Mr Sarkozy?" the ambassadorial staff at the British embassy might well have asked each other in gloating tones.
Winning such words of warmth represented a diplomatic triumph for Mr Cameron. At a time when the US is scrambling to assert its identity as a Pacific power and firm-up its relations with states surrounding China, Mr Obama has cemented the bond with Britain.
This will not impress many of his Latin American neighbours and will rile Argentina, where the presence of British armed forces in the Falklands - one of whom is the heir to the throne - is fiercely resented.
The indications are that Mr Obama does not, as was once speculated, dislike the UK because of the country's record as a colonial power in Kenya, where his US-educated father lived and died. He also seems to have recovered from the traumas of a 1997 stag night pub crawl in Wokingham which he abandoned when a strippergram arrived.
Allegedly, he once assessed the talent of British politics, saying Tony Blair was "sizzle and substance", Gordon Brown was "substance," and Mr Cameron was just "sizzle".
But today, with Germany focused on salvaging the euro and unwilling to deploy battalions to danger-zones with Brit-like gusto, and France in the throes of an election, Mr Cameron is a man who in every sense speaks the president's language.
He may be a Conservative but he belongs to a different universe to US conservatives. It is inconceivable that an advocate of gay marriage could lead today's Republican party.
In 2010, when asked about the former sister party's move rightwards, Mr Cameron commented that the parties of Thatcher and Reagan had "drifted apart".
A blend of realpolitik and personal affinity has resulted in Mr Obama and Mr Cameron drifting together. They do not have the same uncle-nephew kinship that formed between Harold Macmillan and President Kennedy, but they are dads and husbands, educated at top universities, who have climbed to the pinnacle of power in their respective democracies who know what it is like to send troops on a mission and then wait for the report from the front.
The avuncular vice president, Joe Biden, this week said visits by British prime ministers were "more like a family gathering".
Family gatherings can be fraught. Prime Minister John Major was famously furious when President Bill Clinton granted a visa to Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams.
When the president was reminded to mention the "special relationship" by aides ahead of a press conference with Mr Major, he allegedly exclaimed: "How could I forget? The special relationship!" - and threw his head back, laughing.
The US refused to back the UK during the Suez Crisis, during which it became clear that Britain's days as a superpower were gone. Likewise, Britain declined to send forces to Vietnam, no matter how deep America sunk into the quagmire.
The US was no cheerleader for Britain during the Falklands conflict and the second President Bush's steel tariffs were responsible for economic pain, just as his country's rejection of the Kyoto Treaty thwarted hopes for united, global action on climate change.
But the destinies and dreams of the land of Hollywood and the kingdom of Shakespeare are likely to remain interwoven.
A prime minister will not miss the chance to board Air Force One and a president will not pass up the opportunity to enjoy tea at Buckingham Palace.
CAMERON PAYS TRIBUTE TO 9/11 VICTIMS DAVID CAMERON paid his respects to the victims of the 9/11 terror attacks as he visited Ground Zero in New York City yesterday.
The Prime Minister and his wife, Samantha, bowed their heads in silence beside the reflecting pool which acts as a memorial site on the footprint of the former North Tower of the World Trade Centre.
Mrs Cameron laid a posy of white roses on the spot where the name of British victim Katherine Wolf is engraved alongside nearly 3,000 others who lost their lives.
The Prime Minister said the visit brought home to him forcefully the reasons why British troops are fighting in Afghanistan.
"Here at the site of the Twin Towers, Ground Zero, here is the place to remember why what we do overseas is so important, so people are safe at home," he said in a round of TV interviews.
It also emerged yesterday that Mr Cameron and Barack Obama had discussed potential measures to bring down the price of petrol during their talks in the White House on Thursday.
Reports suggest Mr Obama raised the prospect of an international release of strategic reserves to relieve pressure on supplies.
Mr Cameron also revealed that he discussed the recent tensions over the Falkland Islands with Mr Obama.
Mr Cameron said Mr Obama made clear that the US was content with the status quo, under which the islands remain a British overseas territory.
In all, Mr Cameron said he had been "bowled over'''' by the warmth of the reception he received from President Barack Obama during his two days in Washington.
"We are good friends, we get on well, we work well together, it has bowled me over in many ways to have such a warm reception. It's been an extraordinary two days in Washington.
"But you have to look through all the pomp and circumstance to the grit of the relationship which is that in Afghanistan our troops are fighting together and on issues like Somalia and Iran and Syria, we are working together with the aim of making our countries safer.
"So there is a purpose behind the pomp. That's the way Barack sees it and that's the way I see it."
From left, David and Samantha Cameron are greeted by Barack and Michelle Obama; George Clooney, Michelle Obama and David Cameron at the state dinner; David Cameron holds Abria Law during a visit to the National Children''s Centre in Washington; and the Prime Minister walks through the streets of Newark, New Jersey with Newark Mayor Cory Brooker * David Cameron and his wife Samantha talk with Charles Wolf, who lost his wife Katherine - who was from Swansea - on September 11 2001, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg during at visit to the memorial at the Ground Zero site…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Mix of Personal Affinity and Realpolitik Works Both Ways; as Prime Minister David Cameron Last Night Rounded off His US Trip with a Visit to Ground Zero, Political Editor David Williamson Assesses the State of the Britain's 'Special Relationship' with America. Contributors: Not available. Newspaper title: Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales). Publication date: March 16, 2012. Page number: 15. © 2009 MGN Ltd. COPYRIGHT 2012 Gale Group.
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