22 February 2009

Brown’s visit to Obama – read the small print


Looking into the small print and background to Brown’s away-day to see Obama has thrown up some interesting details .

Firstly, the wording of the press release from the White House:

The United States and the United Kingdom share a special partnership, and the President looks forward to working closely with the Prime Minister to address common global challenges.

The phase “special relationship” has been redefined as “special partnership” in a very carefully worded statement.

Secondly, rumours are circulating on who will be the new US ambassador to the UK:

The new US ambassador to Britain, looks to be going to Louis Susman, a mega-fundraiser for Obama who gave and bundled some major bucks for the campaign. It's likely to happen, but a source with direct knowledge of the negotiation said that "it's not final."

The selection of Mr Susman, a lawyer and banker from the president's hometown of Chicago, rather than an experienced diplomat, raises new questions about Mr Obama's commitment to the special relationship with Britain.

Thirdly, Lord Malloch-Brown who should know a thing or two about how Washington works, is quoted as saying:

Brown was struggling to persuade Obama to “pay attention” to his ambitious plans for the G20 summit.


US commitment is vital to the summit’s success but we have to get their attention and input at a time when many of the senior officials are not yet appointed and when those who are already behind their desks have their hands full with a full-blown domestic economic crisis and the teething problems of a new administration,”

A British official added:

The new US regime is like an echo chamber. We are struggling to get people even to return our calls. They are totally focused on domestic issues and have not lifted their heads to look at the international perspective.

Clearly this visit has been extended due to intense diplomatic pressure.  Moreover, it would have been discourteous for Obama not to have had the chair of the G20 over to the White House before the great event.

Why only a day trip on a Tuesday?  No weekend at Camp David?  It does not follow form.  Remember when Blair first met Bush and the toothpaste story.  This was at Camp David.  It will be interesting to see how other leaders are treated.

It will get spun as proof that Brown is “leading the world” and Obama wishes to “seek guidance” from the person “who more than anyone” showed how to solve the banking crisis.

The truth would appear to be somewhat different.

PS. My guess is the the trip may not be that well timed for Brown.  Obama may have a small banking problem to deal with that is approaching faster than he would like.

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