Sunday, March 8, 2009

Snubbing Britain: Obama offends a country

Barack Obama was supposed to make the rest of the world like, if not love, America again. With his charm and sophistication, he would show our cultural superiors overseas, particularly Europe, that America had graduated from cowboy chauvinism to coffee-shop worldliness.

Then an actual European visited the White House, with the whole world watching. Oops. As the British -- or "the Brits" as the President called them during a brief press availability -- might say, the President dropped a clanger, all right.

On their first official visit to the United States, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his wife came to the White House bearing the traditional grand gifts. The prime minister gave Obama a pen holder carved from the remains of the HMS Gannet, a warship that once ran anti-slavery missions along the African coast. The desk in the Oval Office is made from the wood of the Gannet's sister ship.

Brown also gave the President a first edition of Sir Martin Gilbert's seven-volume authorized biography of Winston Churchill. This was apparently a response to Obama's having ungratefully sent back to England in January a bust of Churchill lent to the United States after 9/11.

Obama's gift to Brown? A box of 25 DVDs.

Then Obama canceled the customary joint press conference on account of snow and held a small press availability, leaving out more than a dozen British reporters.

The President acted bored by all of it, rotely acknowledged Britain's status as America's closest ally, and left the prime minister to go greet some Boy Scouts. The socially sensitive Britons went bonkers.

The Independent, a left-wing British newspaper, editorialized that Obama gave merely a "stale paean to the 'special relationship.' "

In a news report, it wrote, "Brown faces humiliation" and "The trip is in marked contrast to the hospitality lavished on Tony Blair by George Bush when they met for the first time."

The entire British press was inflamed with outrage that the American President had treated the prime minister of Great Britain so shabbily.

No one would have thought that George W. Bush could be made to look like a sophisticated gentleman compared to Barack Obama. But Obama just did it.