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Was it an Intentional Trans-Atlantic Cold Shoulder?


Within days of taking office Barack Obama caused a minor diplomatic flap when he brusquely rejected the continued loan of a bust of Winston Churchill that had stood in the Oval Office since shortly after the 9/11 attacks.  The valuable bronze art work was on loan from the British government’s art collection.

Then there was the visit this week from British Prime Minister Gordon Brown:

Number 10 may be content that they just about got away with the visit to the Oval Office yesterday, as Andrew Porter reports from Washington.

But on this side of the Atlantic the whole business looked pretty demeaning. The morning papers and TV last night featured plenty of comment focused on the White House’s very odd and, frankly, exceptionally rude treatment of a British PM. Squeezing in a meeting, denying him a full press conference with flags etc. The British press corps, left outside for an hour in the cold, can take it and their privations are of limited concern to the public.

But Obama’s merely warmish words (one of our closest allies, said with little sincerity or passion) left a bitter taste with this Atlanticist. Especially after his team had made Number 10 beg for a mini press conference and then not even offered the PM lunch.

Mister Brown didn’t come alone, he brought his wife Sarah and their two sons:

Like all good guests, Sarah Brown arrived bearing gifts for the children, Malia and Sasha. And they were really nice presents. A bit of thought had clearly gone into choosing them: Top Shop dresses (with matching necklaces) and a selection of books by British authors. Lovely.

Mrs Brown may have two boys but she certainly knows the way to a little girl’s heart. These were gifts chosen in the true spirit of present-giving: to please the recipient, not the giver.

In return Mrs Obama gave the Brown children, Fraser and John, two toy models of Marine One, the Presidential helicopter. Fair enough on the helicopter part, always a popular choice with small boys; but Marine One? It’s not as though anyone needs reminding that Barack Obama is President or that he has his own helicopter. Short of giving the boys Action Man models of her own husband smiting the evil forces of neoconservatism, Mrs Obama’s gesture could not have been more solipsistic or more inherently dismissive of Mrs Brown.

Not only did she demonstrate that she spent approximately three seconds contemplating the needs of the Brown boys (having an aide pop to the White House gift shop for a piece of merchandising does not imply a great deal of thought), she appeared to show a most uncharacteristic lapse of judgment.


Whether deliberate or not, the whole thing feels like a snub.

As for Fraser and John, their parents’ trip to America will always be remembered as the time that “Mum and Dad went to see the President, and all we got was this lousy plastic helicopter.”

So was it a snub or just bad manners?  From Baldilocks:

Many observers seem puzzled.  I’m not and neither is the UK press.  It’s about Kenya.

If you recall, before Kenya became Kenya (1963) it was a British colony known as British East Africa.  Between 1952 and 1960, there was this little “difference of opinion” between the UK and the natives of British East Africa—primarily from the Kikuyu tribe.  That conflict is known as the Mau Mau Uprising.  There were tens of thousands of African civilians killed and, according to Wiki, seven to ten thousand Africans interned by the British colonial masters.  In Dreams from My Father, President Obama says that his grandfather was tortured by the British during the conflict, though he was not a Kikuyu but a Luo.  Guess which prime minister ordered the Mau Mau insurgency to be put down.

Mystery solved.  It seems that the president is seeking to humiliate the progeny of those who humiliated his ancestors.  Revenge isn’t that complicated a motive.

However, a question remains.  Is this any way for a President of the United States to behave?

Is Barack Obama really that petty and vindictive? 


Thursday: Where in the world is Hillary Clinton?

SOS Clinton with Shimon Peres- Caption this picture

SOS Clinton with Shimon Peres- Caption this picture

Our intrepid Secretary of State is hitting her stride this week with visits to the middle east and Europe.  You can follow her itinerary using this Google interactive map.  Yesterday, she met with Mahmoud Abbas and declared our commitment to a two state solution as well as recognizing the Palestinian Authority as the only legitimate Palestinian government:

“The United States supports the Palestinian Authority as the only legitimate government of the Palestinian people. As a partner on the road to a comprehensive peace, which includes a two-state solution, our support comes with more than words. As I pledged in Sharm el-Sheikh, we will work with President Abbas, Prime Minister Fayyad, and the government of the Palestinian Authority to address critical humanitarian, budgetary, security, and infrastructure needs, both in Gaza and in the West Bank.”

She has been meeting with government officials in Israel as well to reopen the borders with Gaza to facilitate the transfer of humanitarian aid.  And while she has affirmed our “unshakable, durable, fundamental relationship and support for the State of Israel”, she has also been critical of the efforts of the mayor of Jerusalem who has been tearing down houses belonging to Palestinians.  Such efforts are “unhelpful” to the peace process.

The photos of these meetings are remarkable as a study in gender roles and how she seems to be throwing the book away in that regard.  She looks confident, uses direct eye contact, appears to be fully engaged and isn’t afraid to break down the physical barrier between people.

Hillary and George Mitchell in Israel

Hillary and George Mitchell in Israel

I can remember some anthropologist’s study of Congress from years back.  The researcher was able to pick out the alpha Congresscritters by watching how many people came up to them and touched them.  It sounds weirdly primitive.  Can we see the same kind of phenomenon with Hillary Clinton?  The NYTimes had a picture of her meeting with Mahmoud Abbas where the two are very much within one another’s space bubble.  But it looks comfortable and collegial, not pushy.  What I think we are witnessing is the next evolutionary stage in winning the gender wars.  Hillary is a self-actualized *person*.  Maybe this has been the issue with people who have had to deal with her in the past and have become her worst enemies.  She doesn’t appear to operate in gender space as much as person space.  That kind of thing can be profoundly disconcerting to others who are operating within prescribed gender boundaries formed by years of conditioning.   It might be the case that Hillary looks so comfortable in Israel because the culture has had to put aside gender in the political realm in order to survive.  They have had successful female leaders in the past and could very well have them again.

We’ll get there too someday.  Sometimes evolution happens rapidly.  By physically demonstrating the characteristics of leadership, Hillary may be our catalyst.

In other news:

Planet Money has an interesting interview with Sean West of the Eurasia Group who seems to be a WORMy type.  His argument is that Obama and Geithner are politically savvy.  They are trying to make everyone think they aren’t nationalizing the banks when they really are.  That whole thing where they swapped $45 billion in preferred stock for $5 billion in common stock and an agreement that the US wouldn’t have a controlling share in Citigroup?  It was all a wiley political trick, says West.  They are cleverly fooling the bankers into taking our money so that we can make them think we aren’t owning them by not insisting on anything in return.  Damn, they’re geniuses!  I never would have figured that out.  And I guess that Sean West sounds like a kool-ade drinker and administration apologist out of the goodness of his heart.  It probably has nothing to do with who pays his salary.  Hokey-dokey!

Barbara Bush has a heart? Who knew?

Glycerol monolaurate blocks AIDS infection in monkeys.