Magazine article The Spectator

What Washington Thought of Cameron: Smooth, Genial, Evasive-And Tough

Magazine article The Spectator

What Washington Thought of Cameron: Smooth, Genial, Evasive-And Tough

Article excerpt

He came, he saw and, to the surprise of many in Washington, David Cameron conquered.

Those who have been exposed to his personal charm were less surprised. For them, the surprise - perhaps they should have known better than to be surprised -- came from his willingness to resort to evasion. Faced with a specific question about his attitude towards Israel, the Prime Minister gave the usual answer about a two state solution, the need for negotiations, etc.

A few days later, before a Muslim rather than an American audience, he decided that Gaza is a prison, without mentioning that Hamas is the jailer, and that there are few prisons in which the inmates launch rockets at neighbouring countries.

Perhaps because of their shared hostility towards Israel, the Prime Minister hit it off better with the American President than any since Tony Blair who found a third-way partner in Bill Clinton and a companion-in arms in George W. Bush. And to his credit, Cameron did it his way. Whereas Blair struggled to avoid acknowledging that Britain is the junior partner in what Obama now calls a 'truly special relationship', Cameron found no difficulty in recognising that to be the case.

Whereas Blair played down any differences with his American counterpart, Cameron simply acknowledged them and moved on.

No, he would not order an investigation of BP's role in the freeing of Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi, as the President and a gaggle of senators wanted him to do. But he would make sure that any relevant papers were sent to the BP-phobic Americans. No, he would not abandon his budget-cutting, even if that is contrary to what Obama's team believes is in order - different strokes for different folks in this matter as with audiences. If Obama feels the US needs another stimulus, fine;

Britain will go its own way.

Two young, attractive, activist politicians, the American expanding the state, the British leader attempting to cut it down to affordable size, each in need of the support of the other - the President to pursue his Afghanistan strategy and Middle East agenda, the Prime Minister to gain the prestige accorded foreign politicians who receive a cordial reception from the head of the world's most powerful nation; both to have continued access to the others' intelligence and security services.

The overwhelming impression of those who met with Cameron is that he is smooth, genial, well spoken ('a matter of breeding', one slightly sarcastic observer commented), and tougher than they thought he would be.

Which is one reason they take at face value his promise to stick with America in Afghanistan until 2015 (the for-home-consumption variant is 'We're not going to be there in five years time'), at which time he believes the Afghan army will be ready to take over maintaining security in that troubled country.

His goal is to remove Afghanistan as a haven for those who threaten British security:

no more, no less. All of this display of backbone, of course, must be considered in light of Cameron's demonstrated willingness to tailor his remarks to his perception of what will sell well with the audience at hand.

Fortunately for Israel, foreign policy is not the Prime Minister's primary area of interest.

One colleague who met with Cameron concluded that he plans to be a domestic-policy Prime Minister, treating foreign policy as an extension of trade and other economic policies, a view subsequently verified by the Prime Minister's plan to take a large trade delegation to India. …

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