A Strain Across The Oily Pond?

by MELANIE PHILLIPS July 23, 2010
Despite all the false starts and nail-biting repair attempts on the ruptured oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, the stain on the sea will eventually dissipate. But can the same be said about the stain on the “special relationship” between the U.S. and Britain?
 
As British Prime Minister David Cameron set off for his visit to the USA this week, he said Britain was not dependent upon America and did not owe it “blind loyalty.” This comes, of course, in the wake of months of President Obama’s tongue-lashing of “British Petroleum” — a name BP had not used for many years.
 
The British people took the president’s words very much amiss, suspicious that he was unfairly singling out BP for blame as a proxy for bashing Britain itself. The British public sourly noted that the role of the two U.S. firms involved in the managing of the Deepwater Horizon rig was ignored, as was the fact that 39% of BP is owned by Americans.
 
The president’s aggressive rhetoric, including a White House threat to hold a “boot to the throat” of BP, was blamed for wiping billions of pounds off the company’s value. This directly threatened British pension funds, which are heavily reliant on the company’s dividend payments.
 
But there was also something rather deeper and more atavistic in the British response.
 
Obama’s aggression seemed to bring to the fore a British resentment of the U.S. that is never far from the surface.
 
This comprises a toxic mixture of intellectual snobbery; a historic fury at America’s late entry into World War II, after which it was perceived to lay claim to the glory; and perhaps most important of all, a deep envy of American wealth and power by a country that decades ago lost not only its empire but also its cultural way and sense of purpose.
 
Nevertheless, Britain has some cause for complaint from the disdain that Obama has displayed well before the Gulf oil spill. First, he pointedly returned to the British Embassy the bust of Winston Churchill that a previous government had bequeathed to the White House as a gift; then he sided with Argentina in its calls for U.N.-brokered negotiations with Britain over the Falkland Islands.
 
His perceived scapegoating of BP blew the cap off this deep well of bubbling British national affront. A YouGov poll conducted in June found that only 54% of British respondents said they felt favorably toward the United States — down from 66% one month previously.
When asked specifically about how Obama’s handling of the BP oil spill had affected the relationship between Britain and the U.S., 64% said it had weakened it. And 45% said they thought that the relationship has gotten worse since Obama took office in November 2008 — a dramatic increase from the 25% who responded this way the previous month.
 
As a result, Cameron was criticized for backing the president in his attack on BP for failing to stem the flow of oil, saying he understood Obama’s “frustration.” This was almost certainly because, although he is a Conservative leader, Cameron has taken his party to the left by adopting a green and anti-Big Business agenda.
 
With feeling in Britain running so high, however, eventually Cameron did publicly warn that BP’s survival was important, and he was credited here with getting the U.S. president to agree that the oil giant must not go under.
 
Even though the sound and fury over the disaster has calmed, however, the “special relationship” between Britain and the United States has not returned to normal. Something has changed. And the situation is replete with irony.
 
When President Obama was elected, the British were delighted. They believed he would usher in a repudiation of the George W. Bush years and end what they saw as America’s tendency to throw its weight around the world.
 
Ironically, it was precisely that perception that got up their noses over BP. They thought that America had now alighted upon some new folk to push around — the British themselves.
 
Yet even though they have become disillusioned with Obama, the agenda with which they associate him — to end American exceptionalism — is gathering steam in the U.K.
 
It is hard to overestimate the poisonous belief that Britain was dragged on America’s coattails into wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that were against its national interest. However strongly others might deplore such sentiments, they have led to a cooling toward the U.S. across the British political spectrum.
 
Last March, the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee said Britain should be “less deferential” and more assertive in its dealings with America, and it recommended that the term “special relationship” be abandoned.
 
The British government would seem to agree. In a speech a few weeks ago, Foreign Secretary William Hague— while calling the bond with the U.S. “unbreakable” — nevertheless said Britain should pursue “enlightened national interest” through developing alliances with countries such as Brazil and India rather than relying on America and Europe.
 
In part, the Cameron/Liberal Democrat coalition government is reacting to the public’s anti-Americanism. But it also seems to have concluded that Obama is a weak president who has proved indecisive against his country’s enemies while lashing out at its allies.
 
The oil might stop gushing into the Gulf of Mexico — but the waters of the “special relationship” upon which it so toxically poured still remain troubled.
 
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Melanie Phillips is the author of the powerful and frightening "Londonistan" which can be purchased here and she blogs at The Spectator.
 

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