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Burning the White House, and Our Bridges

By Greg Smith

Barack Obama ran for president with a promise of raising American standing in the world. His success can be gauged by the specter of our closest ally — who willingly took Madonna off our hands — publicly marking its burning of the American capital two centuries ago with a “White House barbeque.” A Tweet showed a cake with the White House flanked by sparklers.

It is terribly unlikely the offending Tweet from the British embassy in Washington was an intentional Agincourt salute, the English equivalent of a middle finger. It is still indicative of how lukewarm relations between Washington and London have become. The English have made an attempt in recent decades to shake off the staid, placid reputation of Britannia, but English diplomacy has lost little if any of its subtly.

A year less four days ago British Prime Minister David Cameron called a vote in Parliament on British forces joining the U.S. military in strikes against the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad as punishment for use of chemical weapons in that nation’s civil war. The “red line” President Obama set on the use of chemical weapons had been crossed and Obama very much wanted to get other nations on board for military action.

Cameron publicly and vociferously supported strikes against Assad’s regime and called a non-binding vote in Parliament essentially asking members to support British participation. When the motion was voted down 285-272 Cameron acted chagrined and his Defense Secretary Philip Hammond said he and Cameron were disappointed and that the vote would hurt the close relationship with the U.S. A talented politician like Cameron had to know the vote would fail. Politicians who do not count votes also do not become prime minister.

If Cameron really wanted to partake of Syrian strikes he would have pressed MPs on the issue until he had the votes, or he simply could have authorized the strikes himself without asking Parliament. The failure of the vote allowed Cameron to publicly back Washington while not getting involved. He took a dive.

British reticence to get involved likely had something to do with the Obama administration’s statement — a rhetorical knife in the back if there ever was one — in March 2013 that London should hold talks with Argentina over what the U.S. State Department called “competing claims” to the Falklands Islands. This was after the islanders themselves voted 99.8% to remain British subjects. How would we react to the Queen telling us we may have to give Florida back to the Spanish?

The British government did not intend to insult the United States with its offending Tweet, however if relations between the two governments were truly still special, British embassy personnel would have found another way to commemorate an historic event. The Obama administration has almost gone out of its way to antagonize Britain. Would something like this have happened under any other (recent) president?   ©

 Greg Smith is a freelance writer and political consultant who lives in Bantam, CT. His blog is found at www.betterfatthanfascist.com.