April 1, 2009
By Nile Gardiner, Ph.D.
As Toby Harnden first reported in The Daily
Telegraph, the U.S. president will meet with David Cameron on
Wednesday ahead of the G-20 summit in London. The decision to meet
with the Conservative Party leader is an unusually smart foreign
policy move by the new U.S. administration after a series of poor
decisions by the White House with regard to the Anglo-American
These have ranged from throwing a bust of Churchill out of the
Oval Office to giving the Prime Minister a collection of unplayable
DVDs. The special relationship has been rashly recalibrated as a
"special partnership", and Britain has been insultingly described
by a senior State Department official as "just the same as the
other 190 countries in the world". These were not just throwaway
remarks - they revealed a deep shift in thinking which is taking
place in the US Executive Branch with regard to not only the US-UK
alliance but also Europe.
Obama's advisers are well aware that the Conservatives have
gained a commanding lead over the Labour Party in the polls, and
short of a dramatic turnaround in political fortunes, they predict
Cameron will be in Downing Street by June next year. This is a
significant strategic win for Cameron and his leadership team
including William Hague and George Osborne, who are also expected
to meet with the president. For years in opposition the
Conservatives failed to gain a foothold in Washington, ceding
influence to Labour. That period in the wilderness is over.
As the Conservatives edge closer to power they will need to
project a stronger presence on the world stage, and a privileged
meeting with the leader of the free world sends a clear signal that
British Conservatives are back as a force to be reckoned with in
international affairs. The meeting will magnify Cameron's standing
as a potential Prime Minister, and will generate significant
publicity for him with a broader international audience, including
millions of Americans. It is also an important opportunity for the
Conservative leader to express clear reservations over the drift in
US thinking with regard to transatlantic relations.
On the surface, the Democrat and Tory leaders share a good deal
of mutual ground. Both Obama and Cameron are relatively young,
charismatic politicians who have risen to prominence on the promise
of change for their respective countries. In terms of personality,
the US president has far more in common with the youthful Cameron
than he has with the significantly greyer Gordon Brown. There was
little chemistry between Obama and Brown when they met in the Oval
Office in March, and at times the meeting looked distinctly awkward
On foreign policy, it is hard to discern any sharp divisions
between the new US administration and the Conservatives on issues
ranging from the Iranian nuclear crisis to the Middle East peace
process. Cameron is wary of backing the deployment of more British
troops to the front lines of Afghanistan until the military goals
are more clearly defined, but remains firmly committed to the US
and NATO-led operation to defeat the Taliban.
It is on the question of European policy that a clear
transatlantic divide may emerge between the United States and a
Cameron-led Britain. President Obama heads the first American
administration to wholeheartedly support the European Project, or
the notion of ever-closer union in Europe. The Bush administration
was split between the pro-European State Department, and the more
cautious Pentagon and White House, while the Clinton administration
fought hard against the development of a European defence
In marked contrast the Obama administration is united in its
backing for the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy, the European
Security and Defence Policy as well as the Treaty of Lisbon, all of
which will undermine democracy in Europe and undercut traditional
alliances such as NATO. Both Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary
of State Hillary Clinton have spoken out in favour of European
integration, a position which is almost certainly shared by the
In just over a year the Obama team will likely face the most
Eurosceptic ruling parliamentary party since Margaret Thatcher held
office. The Conservatives have pledged to halt the drive towards
further European integration as well as the erosion of British
national sovereignty. They will have to deal with an American
government that at present is more likely to side with Brussels and
Paris on this issue than with its natural ally in London. The chasm
between the United States and Great Britain over Europe will be a
huge one that will be difficult to bridge unless the Obama
administration changes course.
In his brief meeting with the US president, David Cameron will
naturally seek to build strong ties with a White House he may
ultimately work with as Prime Minister. He must not be reticent
though about reaffirming the principle of British sovereignty in
the European Union, and conveying a clear message to President
Obama that US support for a federal Europe is neither in the
American nor British national interest. As the Conservatives
prepare for power, the preservation of the Special Relationship and
the defence of the transatlantic alliance should be top
Gardiner is Director of the Margaret Thatcher Centre for
Freedom at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC.
First Appeared in the Telegraph(UK)
As Toby Harnden first reported in The Daily Telegraph, the U.S. president will meet with David Cameron on Wednesday ahead of the G-20 summit in London. The decision to meet with the Conservative Party leader is an unusually smart foreign policy move by the new U.S. administration after a series of poor decisions by the White House with regard to the Anglo-American alliance.
Nile Gardiner, Ph.D.
Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom
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