Commentary Magazine


Topic: Gordon Brown

How the Left Pushed Scotland Toward Independence

At first the Scottish referendum was regarded as a bit of a joke. It was being called, if anything, to put the matter to bed. Yet in recent days the first polls have emerged suggesting that the number of Scots preparing to vote for secession may have just surpassed those wishing to remain in the union. This has caused a sudden sense of panic in Westminster. Some have already called on Prime Minister David Cameron to resign, or at least call an election, should Scotland vote to exit the United Kingdom. Even Henry Kissinger has weighed in and voiced his opposition to Britain “getting any smaller.” But the truth is that, very suddenly, the UK looks dangerously close to splitting in two.

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At first the Scottish referendum was regarded as a bit of a joke. It was being called, if anything, to put the matter to bed. Yet in recent days the first polls have emerged suggesting that the number of Scots preparing to vote for secession may have just surpassed those wishing to remain in the union. This has caused a sudden sense of panic in Westminster. Some have already called on Prime Minister David Cameron to resign, or at least call an election, should Scotland vote to exit the United Kingdom. Even Henry Kissinger has weighed in and voiced his opposition to Britain “getting any smaller.” But the truth is that, very suddenly, the UK looks dangerously close to splitting in two.

David Cameron insists that he is a staunch defender of the union. Yet, as many have pointed out, losing Scotland wouldn’t be all bad for someone of Cameron’s outlook. For one thing, no Scotland could well mean no more Labor governments for the foreseeable future. All of the close elections won by Labor would have gone to the Conservatives had the Scottish vote been discounted. Then there’s the fact that, when it comes to public services, Scotland takes out far more from the national budget than it contributes. Lastly, while Scotland is more pro-European than England, should Scotland leave, it is hard to imagine the remnants of the United Kingdom having the appetite for going it alone and leaving the EU as well, something which Cameron also opposes.

In many ways Scottish independence looks almost insane. Geographically, culturally, and politically Scotland is a big part of Britain. But in reality there are less than five and a half million people living there—the UK has far more Londoners than Scots. An independent Scotland would have to renegotiate countless international treaties, including membership of the European Union. Brussels has made clear that this would require Scotland to adopt the euro. Naturally, the Scots want no such thing. But the problem is Westminster is insisting that the continuation of fiscal union wouldn’t be an option. Economists and big business alike have warned Scotland that independence would be economically disastrous. Many corporations are threatening to move south of border. But even assuming the economy didn’t take a hit, Scotland faces a massive deficit regarding what it spends on public services and what it could realistically raise in tax revenues. Scottish nationalists claim they will plug the gap with profits from North Sea oil and gas, but it’s a fantasy to think that Scotland is going to survive as some kind of Gulf state on the North Atlantic.

Really, Scots have never had it so good. Since the end of the 1990s Scotland has been self-governing with its own parliament and government. This means that not only is England subsidizing Scottish public services, but Scots get twice as much political representation. Indeed, ever since devolution to Scotland, Scottish MPs in Westminster still vote on all British matters, but they have also been able to vote on laws only effecting England and Wales. Nor should they forget that Britain’s last prime minister, Gordon Brown, was Scottish.

Yet devolution actually appears to have exacerbated, and not calmed, the Scottish thirst for increasing autonomy. And to understand that thirst you have to go back to Tony Blair’s first government, when New Labor was in ascendancy. Because devolution, for both Scotland and Wales, was very much a policy of New Labor at its most radical. For many involved in that revolution, breaking the UK down into its component parts, paralleled with rapid integration into the EU, was supposed to achieve nothing less than the eradication of Britain as we’ve always known it. Of course, the kind of flag waving, Balkansesque micro-nationalism being encouraged in Scotland and Wales hardly looks in keeping with the progressive post-nationalism of the EU. Yet, in a sense, Scottish and Welsh nationalism was just another aspect of the identity politics championed as part of New Labor’s heady multiculturalism.

By the late 1990s, what you really didn’t want to be was British. Britain was Empire, militarism, backwardness, and bigotry. The first years of New Labor saw a wave of outlawing of traditional British customs. Fox hunting, children’s Punch and Judy puppet shows, and–in certain cities–even Christian imagery in Christmas decorations all went. On the other hand, there was nothing more coveted than having an “alternative” identity. Just as immigrant communities were encouraged to explore their heritage, so in Scotland and Wales, alongside the glistening new Parliament buildings, a cottage industry developed of books and television programs celebrating Scottish and Welsh history. Equally, there was a renewed emphasis on reviving Gaelic languages, particularly in schools.

No doubt there is a human need for identity and belonging. A sense of being part of something ancient enough to be beyond the merely mortal. The left in Britain has systematically eroded British identity and so it is hardly surprising that people have sought alternatives. British Muslims have become more Islamic, just as Scots have become more Scottish. Reacting with alarm, conservative writers and politicians have declared the antidote is for Britons to regain belief in the greatness of their country. The problem is they advocate this as if it is simply something that other people should believe, and more to the point, a generation has been raised to regard such attitudes as parochial and primitive.

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Obama Snubs Britain Yet Again

He just can’t help himself. President Obama has apparently dissed Britain once again by declaring that “[w]e don’t have a stronger friend and stronger ally than Nicolas Sarkozy, and the French people” during a White House appearance with the French president. And the British press has taken notice:

Barack Obama has declared that France is America’s greatest ally, undermining Britain’s Special Relationship with the U.S.

The President risked offending British troops in Afghanistan by saying that French president Nicolas Sarkozy is a ‘stronger friend’ than David Cameron.

The remarks, during a White House appearance with Mr Sarkozy, will reinforce the widely-held view in British diplomatic circles that Mr Obama has less interest in the Special Relationship than any other recent American leader.

Whether or not Obama meant any offense by the statement, he obviously should have realized that his past coldness toward Britain has made the it highly sensitive to any perceived slights from the White House. The president previously declined to meet with former prime minister Gordon Brown, removed the bust of Winston Churchill from his office, and famously gave Queen Elizabeth an iPod with photos of himself on it as a gift. His latest amateur diplomatic slip-up has sparked a bit of anti-French bad-mouthing from both British lawmakers and foreign-policy experts in Washington:

Tory MP Patrick Mercer, a former commander of the Sherwood Foresters regiment, said: “I’m getting a bit fed up with the American President using terms like ‘best ally’ so loosely.

“It’s Britain that has had more than 300 servicemen killed in Afghanistan, not France.

“That to my mind is a lot more powerful than any political gesture making.”

The remarks also angered conservatives in Washington.

Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Centre For Freedom at the Heritage Foundation think-tank, said: “Quite what the French have done to merit this kind of high praise from the U.S. President is difficult to fathom.

“And if the White House means what it says this represents an extraordinary sea change in foreign policy.” Dr Gardiner, a former aide to Lady Thatcher, added: “To suggest that Paris and not London is Washington’s strongest partner is simply ludicrous.

“Such a remark is not only factually wrong but insulting to Britain, not least coming just a few years after the French knifed Washington in the back over the war in Iraq.”

And it’s not hard to see why Obama’s statement provoked such a response. As the Daily Mail notes, the UK has lost nearly seven times as many troops as France in the global war on terror. I’d say that the president should choose his words more carefully next time, but in light of his numerous diplomatic flaps with Britain, I’m not sure if he has it in him.

He just can’t help himself. President Obama has apparently dissed Britain once again by declaring that “[w]e don’t have a stronger friend and stronger ally than Nicolas Sarkozy, and the French people” during a White House appearance with the French president. And the British press has taken notice:

Barack Obama has declared that France is America’s greatest ally, undermining Britain’s Special Relationship with the U.S.

The President risked offending British troops in Afghanistan by saying that French president Nicolas Sarkozy is a ‘stronger friend’ than David Cameron.

The remarks, during a White House appearance with Mr Sarkozy, will reinforce the widely-held view in British diplomatic circles that Mr Obama has less interest in the Special Relationship than any other recent American leader.

Whether or not Obama meant any offense by the statement, he obviously should have realized that his past coldness toward Britain has made the it highly sensitive to any perceived slights from the White House. The president previously declined to meet with former prime minister Gordon Brown, removed the bust of Winston Churchill from his office, and famously gave Queen Elizabeth an iPod with photos of himself on it as a gift. His latest amateur diplomatic slip-up has sparked a bit of anti-French bad-mouthing from both British lawmakers and foreign-policy experts in Washington:

Tory MP Patrick Mercer, a former commander of the Sherwood Foresters regiment, said: “I’m getting a bit fed up with the American President using terms like ‘best ally’ so loosely.

“It’s Britain that has had more than 300 servicemen killed in Afghanistan, not France.

“That to my mind is a lot more powerful than any political gesture making.”

The remarks also angered conservatives in Washington.

Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Centre For Freedom at the Heritage Foundation think-tank, said: “Quite what the French have done to merit this kind of high praise from the U.S. President is difficult to fathom.

“And if the White House means what it says this represents an extraordinary sea change in foreign policy.” Dr Gardiner, a former aide to Lady Thatcher, added: “To suggest that Paris and not London is Washington’s strongest partner is simply ludicrous.

“Such a remark is not only factually wrong but insulting to Britain, not least coming just a few years after the French knifed Washington in the back over the war in Iraq.”

And it’s not hard to see why Obama’s statement provoked such a response. As the Daily Mail notes, the UK has lost nearly seven times as many troops as France in the global war on terror. I’d say that the president should choose his words more carefully next time, but in light of his numerous diplomatic flaps with Britain, I’m not sure if he has it in him.

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Getting Obama Half-Right — and All Wrong

Newt Gingrich has created a new controversy with remarks to National Review Online: “What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]?” As is sadly all too often the case with the former House speaker, he has said something that is half-sharp and half-politically destructive. He’s onto something by connecting Obama’s ideas to anti-colonialism, I think. The key principle in the social and political science Obama studied in the late 1970s and early 1980s was that colonialism was the great evil of the 20th century. The attacks on colonialism, which had been common on the left since the 1920s, were amplified in the 1960s by the reassertion of the Marxist-Leninist conception of “imperialism,” and for good reason — because the more general and less specific term “imperialism” was the way the left could put the United States at the center of its indictment of bourgeois Western corruption and rot.

To the extent that Obama believes that the West and the United States bear a considerable amount of blame for the parlous economic and political condition of other parts of the world and should offer some words of apologetic explanation, he may be operating (as Gingrich sort of suggests) from an ideological base in anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist thinking. This would go a long way to explaining, for example, his bizarre conduct toward Great Britain upon assuming the presidency — the snub of then-PM Gordon Brown, the presentation of a shoddy gift of DVDs, and the banishing of a bust of Churchill from the White House. Why do any of these things to this country’s closest ally unless there is some ideological root? That root could be anti-colonialist ideas, which always held that Great Britain was the worst colonial offender even if it hadn’t been the cruelest (the Belgians were the cruelest) because it portrayed itself as being so humane and orderly.

But by adding a connection to Obama’s father’s home country, Gingrich simply makes his anti-colonial point all but inaudible in the white-noise crackle produced by aligning himself, at least philosophically, with the “birther” crowd. To make the anti-colonial point, there was no need to mention Kenya; the center of anti-colonialist thinking during Obama’s formative educational years was on the Western left, particularly on social-science faculties at major universities here and in Europe. Far more important in this context, if you’re going to mention one of his parents, is his mother Stanley Ann Dunham, who did her academic training as an anthropologist as Obama was growing up. It would seem likely that any ideas of an anti-colonialist nature that Obama might have imbibed as a child would not have come from the father, whom he saw only twice in his life, but rather from his stoutly American, Kansas-to-Seattle-to-Hawaii mother, whose remarkable life journey also included taking up permanent residence on the academic left.

Gingrich might just have been careless in the way he was talking, and through that carelessness handed his party’s enemies a big stick to beat the GOP with at a particularly inopportune moment. Or he might have been sending a cutesy, cagey signal to the birthers that he had joined their number. Hard to say which would be worse.

Newt Gingrich has created a new controversy with remarks to National Review Online: “What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]?” As is sadly all too often the case with the former House speaker, he has said something that is half-sharp and half-politically destructive. He’s onto something by connecting Obama’s ideas to anti-colonialism, I think. The key principle in the social and political science Obama studied in the late 1970s and early 1980s was that colonialism was the great evil of the 20th century. The attacks on colonialism, which had been common on the left since the 1920s, were amplified in the 1960s by the reassertion of the Marxist-Leninist conception of “imperialism,” and for good reason — because the more general and less specific term “imperialism” was the way the left could put the United States at the center of its indictment of bourgeois Western corruption and rot.

To the extent that Obama believes that the West and the United States bear a considerable amount of blame for the parlous economic and political condition of other parts of the world and should offer some words of apologetic explanation, he may be operating (as Gingrich sort of suggests) from an ideological base in anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist thinking. This would go a long way to explaining, for example, his bizarre conduct toward Great Britain upon assuming the presidency — the snub of then-PM Gordon Brown, the presentation of a shoddy gift of DVDs, and the banishing of a bust of Churchill from the White House. Why do any of these things to this country’s closest ally unless there is some ideological root? That root could be anti-colonialist ideas, which always held that Great Britain was the worst colonial offender even if it hadn’t been the cruelest (the Belgians were the cruelest) because it portrayed itself as being so humane and orderly.

But by adding a connection to Obama’s father’s home country, Gingrich simply makes his anti-colonial point all but inaudible in the white-noise crackle produced by aligning himself, at least philosophically, with the “birther” crowd. To make the anti-colonial point, there was no need to mention Kenya; the center of anti-colonialist thinking during Obama’s formative educational years was on the Western left, particularly on social-science faculties at major universities here and in Europe. Far more important in this context, if you’re going to mention one of his parents, is his mother Stanley Ann Dunham, who did her academic training as an anthropologist as Obama was growing up. It would seem likely that any ideas of an anti-colonialist nature that Obama might have imbibed as a child would not have come from the father, whom he saw only twice in his life, but rather from his stoutly American, Kansas-to-Seattle-to-Hawaii mother, whose remarkable life journey also included taking up permanent residence on the academic left.

Gingrich might just have been careless in the way he was talking, and through that carelessness handed his party’s enemies a big stick to beat the GOP with at a particularly inopportune moment. Or he might have been sending a cutesy, cagey signal to the birthers that he had joined their number. Hard to say which would be worse.

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Can Americans Count on the New Brit Coalition?

While one of the hallmarks of Barack Obama’s foreign policy has been the trashing of the formerly “special” relationship between the United States and Britain, it is interesting to speculate what would happen in the event that Washington really needed London’s help. While Gordon Brown’s Labour government could be relied upon as America’s pal in a pinch even if Obama treated the dour Scot like a dog, what would be the reaction from the coalition duo of David Cameron and Nick Clegg to a call for assistance from Obama, especially in the not-altogether-unlikely event of a crisis in the Middle East, involving Iran’s nuclear ambitions?

That’s the question Daniella Peled asks in today’s Guardian. Her answer is that it is far from certain how the new British coalition will respond. The problem lies in the competing agendas of the two parties as well as in their differing attitudes toward the United States.

On the one hand, Prime Minister Cameron has already demonstrated how desperate he is to buddy up with Obama, and the president, who clearly didn’t think much of Brown, isn’t averse to a warmer friendship with the new UK leader. But that doesn’t mean that Cameron is eager to become the junior partner on foreign-policy initiatives to the Americans that Tony Blair was, even if the current resident of the White House is Barack Obama rather than George W. Bush. As for the Conservative Party itself, Peled quotes one party leader as saying “we’re just not that interested” in the Middle East one way or another.

Their Liberal Democrat coalition partners, however, have a very different attitude toward foreign policy in general and the Middle East in particular. The Lib-Dems want to distance the United Kingdom from America even more than Obama wants to distance the United States from Israel. Not only are they unhappy about continuing to fight the war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan; they are also virulently anti-Israel. All of which means that the Lib-Dems are unlikely to support any measures intended to seriously pressure Iran on the nuclear issue. As Peled states, this means there is a huge potential for conflict within the new government on key foreign-policy issues.

However, the notion that the new UK coalition will crack up over a 3 a.m. request from Obama to assist a strike on Iran is more fantasy than anything else. The Obama administration is more likely to learn to live with a nuclear Iran than to fight to remove the existential threat against Israel and the destabilization of the region. And for all of his desire to cozy up to Obama, Cameron’s desire to hold on to his place at No. 10 Downing Street probably outweighs anything else.

But even if we take such an apocalyptic scenario out of the discussion, there is no question that even a White House as devoted to multilateralism and engagement as that of Obama must understand that the new British government cannot be considered as reliable an ally as its predecessor. Neither the Tories nor the Lib-Dems aren’t interested in being portrayed as Obama’s poodles. Nor do they care much about Iran, Hezbollah, or Hamas. For all of his disdain for Gordon Brown, there may come a day when Barack Obama will wish the special relationship he helped destroy could be brought back to life.

While one of the hallmarks of Barack Obama’s foreign policy has been the trashing of the formerly “special” relationship between the United States and Britain, it is interesting to speculate what would happen in the event that Washington really needed London’s help. While Gordon Brown’s Labour government could be relied upon as America’s pal in a pinch even if Obama treated the dour Scot like a dog, what would be the reaction from the coalition duo of David Cameron and Nick Clegg to a call for assistance from Obama, especially in the not-altogether-unlikely event of a crisis in the Middle East, involving Iran’s nuclear ambitions?

That’s the question Daniella Peled asks in today’s Guardian. Her answer is that it is far from certain how the new British coalition will respond. The problem lies in the competing agendas of the two parties as well as in their differing attitudes toward the United States.

On the one hand, Prime Minister Cameron has already demonstrated how desperate he is to buddy up with Obama, and the president, who clearly didn’t think much of Brown, isn’t averse to a warmer friendship with the new UK leader. But that doesn’t mean that Cameron is eager to become the junior partner on foreign-policy initiatives to the Americans that Tony Blair was, even if the current resident of the White House is Barack Obama rather than George W. Bush. As for the Conservative Party itself, Peled quotes one party leader as saying “we’re just not that interested” in the Middle East one way or another.

Their Liberal Democrat coalition partners, however, have a very different attitude toward foreign policy in general and the Middle East in particular. The Lib-Dems want to distance the United Kingdom from America even more than Obama wants to distance the United States from Israel. Not only are they unhappy about continuing to fight the war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan; they are also virulently anti-Israel. All of which means that the Lib-Dems are unlikely to support any measures intended to seriously pressure Iran on the nuclear issue. As Peled states, this means there is a huge potential for conflict within the new government on key foreign-policy issues.

However, the notion that the new UK coalition will crack up over a 3 a.m. request from Obama to assist a strike on Iran is more fantasy than anything else. The Obama administration is more likely to learn to live with a nuclear Iran than to fight to remove the existential threat against Israel and the destabilization of the region. And for all of his desire to cozy up to Obama, Cameron’s desire to hold on to his place at No. 10 Downing Street probably outweighs anything else.

But even if we take such an apocalyptic scenario out of the discussion, there is no question that even a White House as devoted to multilateralism and engagement as that of Obama must understand that the new British government cannot be considered as reliable an ally as its predecessor. Neither the Tories nor the Lib-Dems aren’t interested in being portrayed as Obama’s poodles. Nor do they care much about Iran, Hezbollah, or Hamas. For all of his disdain for Gordon Brown, there may come a day when Barack Obama will wish the special relationship he helped destroy could be brought back to life.

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Mark Steyn on Gordon Brown

Over at the Corner, Mark Steyn offers a brilliantly compressed explanation of Gordon Brown’s hijinks yesterday:

So much for those Yank-style televised leaders’ debates only a couple weeks back. Instead, Britain will end up with a leader who didn’t participate in the leaders’ debates, presiding over a coalition that wasn’t on the ballot, implementing a platform no party ran on, yet committed to transformative electoral reform for which there is no mandate.

Over at the Corner, Mark Steyn offers a brilliantly compressed explanation of Gordon Brown’s hijinks yesterday:

So much for those Yank-style televised leaders’ debates only a couple weeks back. Instead, Britain will end up with a leader who didn’t participate in the leaders’ debates, presiding over a coalition that wasn’t on the ballot, implementing a platform no party ran on, yet committed to transformative electoral reform for which there is no mandate.

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So, What’s the British Outcome Mean?

Jokes abound. One colleague tells me it’s a Mick Jagger election: no one got any satisfaction. I’m reminded of Zhou Enlai’s response when asked about the significance of the French Revolution: it’s too soon to tell. But at the risk of being proved wrong by political developments over the next few hours, and analysis of the results over the next few years, let me offer a take.

First, one really heartening fact: as Martin Bright points out, it was a bad night for Islamists and fascists. The Respect coalition — Ken Livingstone’s ill-sorted collection of Islamist sympathizers — was crushed all around. George Galloway (what a relief to no longer have to describe him as George Galloway, MP) got the boot. The BNP was routed. Various MPs targeted by the Muslim Public Affairs Committee survived. This is all very satisfactory.

The second fact was the unexpectedly bad performance of the Liberal Democrats. When the first exit poll appeared at 10 p.m. local time, showing that the Lib Dems were likely to lose seats, no one — myself included — thought it had any credibility. It did. The tricky question is why. The explanation now percolating in commentators’ columns is that Nick Clegg rode a boomlet up and then rode it down.

I don’t discount that possibility, but here’s another: there never was that much support for the Lib Dems in the first place. The so-called Golden Rule of British political opinion polling for the past 20 years has been that the poll showing the worst result for Labour is the most accurate. The Tories are, usually, the beneficiary on the day of this nonexistent Labour support.

It may be that, in the middle weeks of the campaign, this non-support abandoned Labour (perhaps because no one wanted to say they were voting for Gordon Brown when they weren’t) and jumped ship to the Lib Dems. And then came the day that the non-support did what it usually does — slosh back to the Tories. That’s just speculation, but for now I incline to the belief that the Lib Dems became, for a brief moment, the verbally acceptable alternative for voters who actually had entirely different plans in mind.

The third fact, obviously, was that Cameron was unable to climb the mountain. And it was a mountain. Only once in Britain’s post-1945 electoral history has a government with a clear majority in the Commons been defeated and replaced by a different government, also with a clear majority. And that was in 1970, which was a shock result. It’s fair, probably, to say that Cameron might have been expected — should have been expected, maybe — to do better. But the mountain was really, really big.

The fourth fact is that the Tory successes were surprisingly random. Seats relatively high on their target list were not won — but this was (almost) balanced by successes where their odds seemed slim. The conclusion I draw is that this was an election where good constituency MPs were rewarded, and bad ones were punished. The expenses scandal of last year may have had a lot to do with this — Jacqui Smith, for example, went down to defeat. But it may also say something about the decay of parties as the organizing force in British politics, a subject I’ve complained about before. If so, it helps explain why Cameron couldn’t quite pull it off.

So, what’s next? As Yogi Berra supposedly said, predictions are dangerous, especially when they’re about the future. There are three things that will be decided over the next few hours, or days: who’ll be PM, whether there will be a coalition government, and when the next election is. My bet on the third point is October 2010: I see no way a coherent, stable government can be formed from the existing alignment in the Commons. As for the first point: Cameron. No one appears to want to do a deal with Gordon Brown except Brown himself.

The interesting question is how and on what terms Cameron will be installed in No. 10. One possibility is a full coalition government, with the Liberal Democrats. But except for the fact that both the Tories and the Lib Dems want to be in government, they have very little in common. They are miles apart on foreign policy and have less in common domestically than the Tories and Labour. A coalition between them would lack any organizing principle. Its price would probably be some sort of electoral reform — a possibility that is chewing up the newswires right now. I have written at length on the genesis of proportional representation in Britain, and I won’t burden anyone with that now. Suffice it to say that my research makes me very skeptical about its desirability.

A second possibility, therefore, is a Tory government drawing support on an issue-by-issue basis from the Lib Dems, Labour, the Ulster Unionists, and the other minor parties. This, to my mind, is the most likely possibility, but it’s also one of the least capable of offering strong leadership in response to the fiscal crisis. Come the next election, this might evolve into a Tory and Lib Dem agreement that each would focus its fire on Labour. That would gain the Tories enough seats to form a government, and the Lib Dems enough seats to move out of their status as the eternal bridesmaid of British politics.

And then there’s a third possibility. The Tories and Labour, in fact, have at least as much in common with each other as they do with the Liberal Democrats. In 1931, during the greatest of Britain’s previous fiscal crises, the collapse of the Labour government led to the election of a Tory-dominated government of national unity, with only the more extreme elements in British politics (elements of the Labour Party, the Lloyd George Liberals, and Oswald Mosely) left on the side.

I don’t expect this to happen again. But if it did, and if the Tories and Labour both concentrated their electoral fire in the subsequent election on the Lib Dems, the result would probably be a Lib Dem wipeout. I wonder if this thought has occurred to Nick Clegg as he entertains offers from Cameron and Brown.

Jokes abound. One colleague tells me it’s a Mick Jagger election: no one got any satisfaction. I’m reminded of Zhou Enlai’s response when asked about the significance of the French Revolution: it’s too soon to tell. But at the risk of being proved wrong by political developments over the next few hours, and analysis of the results over the next few years, let me offer a take.

First, one really heartening fact: as Martin Bright points out, it was a bad night for Islamists and fascists. The Respect coalition — Ken Livingstone’s ill-sorted collection of Islamist sympathizers — was crushed all around. George Galloway (what a relief to no longer have to describe him as George Galloway, MP) got the boot. The BNP was routed. Various MPs targeted by the Muslim Public Affairs Committee survived. This is all very satisfactory.

The second fact was the unexpectedly bad performance of the Liberal Democrats. When the first exit poll appeared at 10 p.m. local time, showing that the Lib Dems were likely to lose seats, no one — myself included — thought it had any credibility. It did. The tricky question is why. The explanation now percolating in commentators’ columns is that Nick Clegg rode a boomlet up and then rode it down.

I don’t discount that possibility, but here’s another: there never was that much support for the Lib Dems in the first place. The so-called Golden Rule of British political opinion polling for the past 20 years has been that the poll showing the worst result for Labour is the most accurate. The Tories are, usually, the beneficiary on the day of this nonexistent Labour support.

It may be that, in the middle weeks of the campaign, this non-support abandoned Labour (perhaps because no one wanted to say they were voting for Gordon Brown when they weren’t) and jumped ship to the Lib Dems. And then came the day that the non-support did what it usually does — slosh back to the Tories. That’s just speculation, but for now I incline to the belief that the Lib Dems became, for a brief moment, the verbally acceptable alternative for voters who actually had entirely different plans in mind.

The third fact, obviously, was that Cameron was unable to climb the mountain. And it was a mountain. Only once in Britain’s post-1945 electoral history has a government with a clear majority in the Commons been defeated and replaced by a different government, also with a clear majority. And that was in 1970, which was a shock result. It’s fair, probably, to say that Cameron might have been expected — should have been expected, maybe — to do better. But the mountain was really, really big.

The fourth fact is that the Tory successes were surprisingly random. Seats relatively high on their target list were not won — but this was (almost) balanced by successes where their odds seemed slim. The conclusion I draw is that this was an election where good constituency MPs were rewarded, and bad ones were punished. The expenses scandal of last year may have had a lot to do with this — Jacqui Smith, for example, went down to defeat. But it may also say something about the decay of parties as the organizing force in British politics, a subject I’ve complained about before. If so, it helps explain why Cameron couldn’t quite pull it off.

So, what’s next? As Yogi Berra supposedly said, predictions are dangerous, especially when they’re about the future. There are three things that will be decided over the next few hours, or days: who’ll be PM, whether there will be a coalition government, and when the next election is. My bet on the third point is October 2010: I see no way a coherent, stable government can be formed from the existing alignment in the Commons. As for the first point: Cameron. No one appears to want to do a deal with Gordon Brown except Brown himself.

The interesting question is how and on what terms Cameron will be installed in No. 10. One possibility is a full coalition government, with the Liberal Democrats. But except for the fact that both the Tories and the Lib Dems want to be in government, they have very little in common. They are miles apart on foreign policy and have less in common domestically than the Tories and Labour. A coalition between them would lack any organizing principle. Its price would probably be some sort of electoral reform — a possibility that is chewing up the newswires right now. I have written at length on the genesis of proportional representation in Britain, and I won’t burden anyone with that now. Suffice it to say that my research makes me very skeptical about its desirability.

A second possibility, therefore, is a Tory government drawing support on an issue-by-issue basis from the Lib Dems, Labour, the Ulster Unionists, and the other minor parties. This, to my mind, is the most likely possibility, but it’s also one of the least capable of offering strong leadership in response to the fiscal crisis. Come the next election, this might evolve into a Tory and Lib Dem agreement that each would focus its fire on Labour. That would gain the Tories enough seats to form a government, and the Lib Dems enough seats to move out of their status as the eternal bridesmaid of British politics.

And then there’s a third possibility. The Tories and Labour, in fact, have at least as much in common with each other as they do with the Liberal Democrats. In 1931, during the greatest of Britain’s previous fiscal crises, the collapse of the Labour government led to the election of a Tory-dominated government of national unity, with only the more extreme elements in British politics (elements of the Labour Party, the Lloyd George Liberals, and Oswald Mosely) left on the side.

I don’t expect this to happen again. But if it did, and if the Tories and Labour both concentrated their electoral fire in the subsequent election on the Lib Dems, the result would probably be a Lib Dem wipeout. I wonder if this thought has occurred to Nick Clegg as he entertains offers from Cameron and Brown.

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The Worst Brit PM: Loser of the Colonies or Appeaser of Hitler?

As we await the results of today’s British elections, it’s hard to work up much enthusiasm about the outcome, given the dismal choices facing the voters there. David Cameron, the not-very-conservative Conservative leader who doesn’t appear to be much of a friend to the United States, might be the best of the lot compared with Gordon Brown and Labour, and especially with the hard-left anti-Israel venom emanating from the Liberal Democrats led by Nick Clegg, but that is to damn Cameron with faint praise.

But whoever the next resident of No. 10 Downing Street may be, the Times of London has provided readers with an interesting feature about his predecessors, ranking the top 50 British prime ministers. A panel of political writers and journalists — not historians — composed the list, but it still is enough to spark a lively conversation about the subject.

At the top of the list (no surprise here) is Winston Churchill, though it should be noted that the panel wasn’t unanimous about the choice, with one of the members voting for the overall No. 2 choice: David Lloyd George, who led Britain to victory during World War One. The rest of the top 10 were: William Gladstone, William Pitt the Younger, Margaret Thatcher, Sir Robert Peel, Clement Atlee, Earl Grey (it pays to have a tea named after you), Robert Walpole, and Benjamin Disraeli. (In case his buddy George W. Bush is interested, Tony Blair was ranked number 16, tied with the elder William Pitt.)

More curious than the leaders in the poll, most of whom are obvious choices, were the ones at the bottom. For those of us whose view of 20th century British history was primarily formed by our interest in the battle between Churchill and the “guilty men” who appeased Hitler, it is fascinating to note that while Neville Chamberlain’s name is synonymous with infamy, the Times panel thinks that he wasn’t really all that bad, ranking him at 34th, which is not so good but far from the bottom. Interestingly, fellow appeaser Stanley Baldwin, who preceded Chamberlain, was ranked fairly high at 14th, apparently because of the slick way he handled the abdication of Queen Elizabeth’s uncle the Duke of Windsor.

So who did the panel think were the worst prime ministers? Interestingly, the bottom three of this list of 49 men and one woman were the three Brits who lost the American colonies: Lord George Granville, the Duke of Grafton, and Lord North (1770-1782), who was the last and the least. There’s no question that these three were terrible British leaders, but I’m not exactly sure what it says about the Times of London — or Britain for that matter — that their panel thinks the creation of the United States was a greater disaster for their country than a policy of appeasement that led to a global war and to Auschwitz. I’d have thought that our friends across the pond had gotten over the results of the Battle of Yorktown a long while ago, but perhaps now that President Obama has put an end to the “special relationship” with Britain, the chasm between our two nations — divided, as G.B. Shaw said, by “a common language,” is even greater than we could have imagined.

As we await the results of today’s British elections, it’s hard to work up much enthusiasm about the outcome, given the dismal choices facing the voters there. David Cameron, the not-very-conservative Conservative leader who doesn’t appear to be much of a friend to the United States, might be the best of the lot compared with Gordon Brown and Labour, and especially with the hard-left anti-Israel venom emanating from the Liberal Democrats led by Nick Clegg, but that is to damn Cameron with faint praise.

But whoever the next resident of No. 10 Downing Street may be, the Times of London has provided readers with an interesting feature about his predecessors, ranking the top 50 British prime ministers. A panel of political writers and journalists — not historians — composed the list, but it still is enough to spark a lively conversation about the subject.

At the top of the list (no surprise here) is Winston Churchill, though it should be noted that the panel wasn’t unanimous about the choice, with one of the members voting for the overall No. 2 choice: David Lloyd George, who led Britain to victory during World War One. The rest of the top 10 were: William Gladstone, William Pitt the Younger, Margaret Thatcher, Sir Robert Peel, Clement Atlee, Earl Grey (it pays to have a tea named after you), Robert Walpole, and Benjamin Disraeli. (In case his buddy George W. Bush is interested, Tony Blair was ranked number 16, tied with the elder William Pitt.)

More curious than the leaders in the poll, most of whom are obvious choices, were the ones at the bottom. For those of us whose view of 20th century British history was primarily formed by our interest in the battle between Churchill and the “guilty men” who appeased Hitler, it is fascinating to note that while Neville Chamberlain’s name is synonymous with infamy, the Times panel thinks that he wasn’t really all that bad, ranking him at 34th, which is not so good but far from the bottom. Interestingly, fellow appeaser Stanley Baldwin, who preceded Chamberlain, was ranked fairly high at 14th, apparently because of the slick way he handled the abdication of Queen Elizabeth’s uncle the Duke of Windsor.

So who did the panel think were the worst prime ministers? Interestingly, the bottom three of this list of 49 men and one woman were the three Brits who lost the American colonies: Lord George Granville, the Duke of Grafton, and Lord North (1770-1782), who was the last and the least. There’s no question that these three were terrible British leaders, but I’m not exactly sure what it says about the Times of London — or Britain for that matter — that their panel thinks the creation of the United States was a greater disaster for their country than a policy of appeasement that led to a global war and to Auschwitz. I’d have thought that our friends across the pond had gotten over the results of the Battle of Yorktown a long while ago, but perhaps now that President Obama has put an end to the “special relationship” with Britain, the chasm between our two nations — divided, as G.B. Shaw said, by “a common language,” is even greater than we could have imagined.

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Something Must Be Done

A.A. Gill’s much-forwarded piece in the Times on Britain’s election is a delightfully readable mixture of wrong-headedness, error, and sputtering confusion, with some sensible ideas and superb acidity mixed in. There is a case to be made that the House of Commons is too big — though reducing it would only mean larger constituencies, and thus an even more tenuous connection between MPs and those constituencies. And there is an even better case to be made that, as the expenses scandal revealed, the Commons has been far too concerned with feathering its own nest.

On the other hand, some of his ideas are revealing in their errors. Gill’s worried about the role of the House of Lords, as if the Lords has really been a vital political issue at any point over the past 99 years. He’s angry that the constituency boundaries give Labour a substantial advantage. Actually, Labour’s built-in advantage is between six and 16 seats: it’s real, but it’s not huge. He’s angry that MPs have to concern themselves with “pointless” local matters like “potholes, traffic lights, arguments with the police and admissions to schools and hospitals,” as if these kinds of concerns are beneath the dignity of democratic politics.

And he’s annoyed that he has “never covered an election in a democracy where candidates have been so reluctant to speak to the electorate through the press.” Of course, one reason for that is that public appearances by Gordon Brown tend to alienate more voters than they attract. Another, more substantial one is that political speech in Britain during an election is heavily controlled by law, a fact that sheds some useful light on the merits of the Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United decision.

But when you come right down to it, Gill’s big beef is with Britain itself. He’s wonderfully dismissive of Nick Clegg (“He speaks five languages but can’t say boo in any of them”) and Gordon Brown (“He wrestles with an Old Testament temper, and it’s said that he has no friends. Certainly, none of them have come out to contradict this”), and his dismissal of proportional representation is excellent. Like Edward VIII, he believes that “something must be done,” but he’s not clear exactly what, apart to be sure that Britain’s traditions are at the root of its problems.

This is, frankly, ridiculous. The problem in Britain isn’t too much tradition. It’s the demolition of it. The vast majority of law in Britain is now made in Brussels. Parliament is immeasurably less important to politics than it has been in the past, as evidenced by the American-style debates that Gill praises. The idea that Parliament still works today as it did in Trollope’s age doesn’t bear up under scrutiny for more than a second.

Britain’s fundamental problem is that in a parliamentary system, you need both strong support for the government (otherwise it can be gone in minutes) and strong scrutiny of government (otherwise it’s omnipotent at worst or corrupt at best). The presidentialization of politics means a weakening of parties, and the decline of the Commons means less public scrutiny of government (and of the EU), as well as all manner of petty snouts in the trough. The system is being nibbled away — or gnawed away — at both ends. And predictably, inevitably, hopelessly, the call of the commentators is for more change, faster.

A.A. Gill’s much-forwarded piece in the Times on Britain’s election is a delightfully readable mixture of wrong-headedness, error, and sputtering confusion, with some sensible ideas and superb acidity mixed in. There is a case to be made that the House of Commons is too big — though reducing it would only mean larger constituencies, and thus an even more tenuous connection between MPs and those constituencies. And there is an even better case to be made that, as the expenses scandal revealed, the Commons has been far too concerned with feathering its own nest.

On the other hand, some of his ideas are revealing in their errors. Gill’s worried about the role of the House of Lords, as if the Lords has really been a vital political issue at any point over the past 99 years. He’s angry that the constituency boundaries give Labour a substantial advantage. Actually, Labour’s built-in advantage is between six and 16 seats: it’s real, but it’s not huge. He’s angry that MPs have to concern themselves with “pointless” local matters like “potholes, traffic lights, arguments with the police and admissions to schools and hospitals,” as if these kinds of concerns are beneath the dignity of democratic politics.

And he’s annoyed that he has “never covered an election in a democracy where candidates have been so reluctant to speak to the electorate through the press.” Of course, one reason for that is that public appearances by Gordon Brown tend to alienate more voters than they attract. Another, more substantial one is that political speech in Britain during an election is heavily controlled by law, a fact that sheds some useful light on the merits of the Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United decision.

But when you come right down to it, Gill’s big beef is with Britain itself. He’s wonderfully dismissive of Nick Clegg (“He speaks five languages but can’t say boo in any of them”) and Gordon Brown (“He wrestles with an Old Testament temper, and it’s said that he has no friends. Certainly, none of them have come out to contradict this”), and his dismissal of proportional representation is excellent. Like Edward VIII, he believes that “something must be done,” but he’s not clear exactly what, apart to be sure that Britain’s traditions are at the root of its problems.

This is, frankly, ridiculous. The problem in Britain isn’t too much tradition. It’s the demolition of it. The vast majority of law in Britain is now made in Brussels. Parliament is immeasurably less important to politics than it has been in the past, as evidenced by the American-style debates that Gill praises. The idea that Parliament still works today as it did in Trollope’s age doesn’t bear up under scrutiny for more than a second.

Britain’s fundamental problem is that in a parliamentary system, you need both strong support for the government (otherwise it can be gone in minutes) and strong scrutiny of government (otherwise it’s omnipotent at worst or corrupt at best). The presidentialization of politics means a weakening of parties, and the decline of the Commons means less public scrutiny of government (and of the EU), as well as all manner of petty snouts in the trough. The system is being nibbled away — or gnawed away — at both ends. And predictably, inevitably, hopelessly, the call of the commentators is for more change, faster.

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Uh, Mr. Brown, the Microphone’s Live

Shades of Frank Drebin: Gordon Brown may have sunk his chances in Britain’s general election with an unguarded comment into a microphone he didn’t realize he was still wearing. After campaigning in Rochdale in northern England, he muttered, amid a stream of invective directed at his aides, that 61-year-old Labour supporter Gillian Duffy was a “bigoted woman” for questioning him about the impact on the British job market of immigration from Eastern Europe.

Brown’s since made an in-person apology and e-mailed a fulsome “personal” letter to all Labour activists, but the damage seems to have been done. As one commentator put it, showing a nice grasp of British understatement, “I don’t think it’s a good idea to call voters bigots.”

On one level, of course, it’s possible to have some sympathy for Brown. This is the kind of thing that happens when you’re around microphones so much: few of us would want our every comment recorded and aired in prime time. On another level, as Andrew Rawnsley points out, this is just another example of one of Brown’s more unattractive attributes: his volcanic temper and his eagerness to pour vitriol on his aides and anyone else who gets in his way.

But this isn’t really about Brown’s bad luck or his bed temper. Poll after poll shows that immigration is a central issue in the election, or at least a central concern for many voters. There is every reason to believe that it lies behind the erosion of Labour support in places just like Rochdale, where many — like Mrs. Duffy — believe privately that the Labour elite view their concerns with contempt. Brown’s outburst is evidence that they’re right.

Not that more evidence is needed. Back in October, Andrew Neather, who was closely involved in the making of policy on immigration in the early Labour years, was sufficiently outraged by the televised appearance of Nick Griffin, the leader of the British National Party, to make the following case — and yes, he did think he was making the positive case — for mass migration:

[T]he deliberate policy of ministers from late 2000 until at least February last year, when the Government introduced a points-based system, was to open up the UK to mass migration. …

It’s not simply a question of foreign nannies, cleaners and gardeners — although frankly it’s hard to see how the capital could function without them. Their place certainly wouldn’t be taken by unemployed BNP voters from Barking or Burnley — fascist au pair, anyone? …

I wrote the landmark speech given by then immigration minister Barbara Roche in September 2000, calling for a loosening of controls … the earlier drafts I saw also included a driving political purpose: that mass immigration was the way that the Government was going to make the UK truly multicultural. I remember coming away from some discussions with the clear sense that the policy was intended — even if this wasn’t its main purpose — to rub the Right’s nose in diversity and render their arguments out of date. …

But ministers wouldn’t talk about it. In part they probably realised the conservatism of their core voters: while ministers might have been passionately in favour of a more diverse society, it wasn’t necessarily a debate they wanted to have in working men’s clubs in Sheffield or Sunderland.

The only thing more arrogant and out of touch than Neather’s acknowledgement that Britain’s immigration policy was covertly run for the benefit of those who employ foreign nannies was his slap at the “unemployed BNP voters from Barking.” His was the worst possible defense of mass migration into Britain because it was so obviously elitist. And all it really did was display at greater length the contempt that Brown spat at his aides and, unknowingly, into the microphone on Wednesday.

And that is the real political significance of Brown’s open-mike flub: it reminded a significant element in the core Old Labour vote — the vote Labour has to win if it’s to have any chance of playing a role in government-making after May 6 — that quite a bit of New Labour’s leadership quietly detests them and regards them as bigots.

Curiously, the real loser in this may be Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, not Gordon Brown. Neither Clegg nor Brown was ever going to form a government on his own, but Clegg badly needs Labour to do well enough to keep the Tories from winning. Every alienated Labour voter that stays home is another constituency that’s in play for the Tories, and therefore another nail in Clegg’s chances.

Shades of Frank Drebin: Gordon Brown may have sunk his chances in Britain’s general election with an unguarded comment into a microphone he didn’t realize he was still wearing. After campaigning in Rochdale in northern England, he muttered, amid a stream of invective directed at his aides, that 61-year-old Labour supporter Gillian Duffy was a “bigoted woman” for questioning him about the impact on the British job market of immigration from Eastern Europe.

Brown’s since made an in-person apology and e-mailed a fulsome “personal” letter to all Labour activists, but the damage seems to have been done. As one commentator put it, showing a nice grasp of British understatement, “I don’t think it’s a good idea to call voters bigots.”

On one level, of course, it’s possible to have some sympathy for Brown. This is the kind of thing that happens when you’re around microphones so much: few of us would want our every comment recorded and aired in prime time. On another level, as Andrew Rawnsley points out, this is just another example of one of Brown’s more unattractive attributes: his volcanic temper and his eagerness to pour vitriol on his aides and anyone else who gets in his way.

But this isn’t really about Brown’s bad luck or his bed temper. Poll after poll shows that immigration is a central issue in the election, or at least a central concern for many voters. There is every reason to believe that it lies behind the erosion of Labour support in places just like Rochdale, where many — like Mrs. Duffy — believe privately that the Labour elite view their concerns with contempt. Brown’s outburst is evidence that they’re right.

Not that more evidence is needed. Back in October, Andrew Neather, who was closely involved in the making of policy on immigration in the early Labour years, was sufficiently outraged by the televised appearance of Nick Griffin, the leader of the British National Party, to make the following case — and yes, he did think he was making the positive case — for mass migration:

[T]he deliberate policy of ministers from late 2000 until at least February last year, when the Government introduced a points-based system, was to open up the UK to mass migration. …

It’s not simply a question of foreign nannies, cleaners and gardeners — although frankly it’s hard to see how the capital could function without them. Their place certainly wouldn’t be taken by unemployed BNP voters from Barking or Burnley — fascist au pair, anyone? …

I wrote the landmark speech given by then immigration minister Barbara Roche in September 2000, calling for a loosening of controls … the earlier drafts I saw also included a driving political purpose: that mass immigration was the way that the Government was going to make the UK truly multicultural. I remember coming away from some discussions with the clear sense that the policy was intended — even if this wasn’t its main purpose — to rub the Right’s nose in diversity and render their arguments out of date. …

But ministers wouldn’t talk about it. In part they probably realised the conservatism of their core voters: while ministers might have been passionately in favour of a more diverse society, it wasn’t necessarily a debate they wanted to have in working men’s clubs in Sheffield or Sunderland.

The only thing more arrogant and out of touch than Neather’s acknowledgement that Britain’s immigration policy was covertly run for the benefit of those who employ foreign nannies was his slap at the “unemployed BNP voters from Barking.” His was the worst possible defense of mass migration into Britain because it was so obviously elitist. And all it really did was display at greater length the contempt that Brown spat at his aides and, unknowingly, into the microphone on Wednesday.

And that is the real political significance of Brown’s open-mike flub: it reminded a significant element in the core Old Labour vote — the vote Labour has to win if it’s to have any chance of playing a role in government-making after May 6 — that quite a bit of New Labour’s leadership quietly detests them and regards them as bigots.

Curiously, the real loser in this may be Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, not Gordon Brown. Neither Clegg nor Brown was ever going to form a government on his own, but Clegg badly needs Labour to do well enough to keep the Tories from winning. Every alienated Labour voter that stays home is another constituency that’s in play for the Tories, and therefore another nail in Clegg’s chances.

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How About a Proximity Speech?

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — currently in the 64th month of his 48-month term; unable since 2007 to set foot in half his putative state; rejecting in 2008 an offer of a state from the most pliant prime minister in Israeli history; unwilling throughout 2009 to consider negotiations without a pre-negotiation concession he knew no Israeli government could accept; currently considering a proposal for “proximity talks” (better described as nearby non-talks) to obviate the need to talk to Israelis — will be coming to the White House. He will probably get a better reception than Gordon Brown, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Dalai Lama.

Yesterday Abbas gave a speech that undoubtedly previews the message he will bring:

“Mr. President (Barack Obama) and members of the American administration, since you believe in this (an independent Palestinian state), it is your duty to take steps toward a solution and to impose this solution,” Abbas said in a speech. …

“We’ve asked them (the Obama administration) more than once: ‘Impose a solution’,” Abbas said.

Jerusalem Post editor in chief David Horovitz has a more modest suggestion, writing that Abbas should give a speech comparable to the “two-state” address Netanyahu made last year — one that would indicate a Palestinian acceptance of a Jewish state:

Let Abbas speak in Arabic, to his own people — with his leadership colleagues on hand to publicly support and applaud him — and let him tell them that the Jews, too, have historic rights to Palestine. … Let him recall that the international community, in partitioning British mandatory Palestine, provided for a Jewish and an Arab entity side by side – that, in other words,  the provision for revived Jewish sovereignty was integral to the right the Palestinians seek to realize for their own historically unprecedented independence. And let him declare, therefore, that he recognizes that the demand for a “right of return” for millions of Palestinians to what is now Israel is a dream that must be abandoned, for the Jewish nation has the right to that small sliver of sovereign land of its own.

Memo to the Obama administration: before trying to impose a peace plan, try imposing that. Call it a confidence-building gesture.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — currently in the 64th month of his 48-month term; unable since 2007 to set foot in half his putative state; rejecting in 2008 an offer of a state from the most pliant prime minister in Israeli history; unwilling throughout 2009 to consider negotiations without a pre-negotiation concession he knew no Israeli government could accept; currently considering a proposal for “proximity talks” (better described as nearby non-talks) to obviate the need to talk to Israelis — will be coming to the White House. He will probably get a better reception than Gordon Brown, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Dalai Lama.

Yesterday Abbas gave a speech that undoubtedly previews the message he will bring:

“Mr. President (Barack Obama) and members of the American administration, since you believe in this (an independent Palestinian state), it is your duty to take steps toward a solution and to impose this solution,” Abbas said in a speech. …

“We’ve asked them (the Obama administration) more than once: ‘Impose a solution’,” Abbas said.

Jerusalem Post editor in chief David Horovitz has a more modest suggestion, writing that Abbas should give a speech comparable to the “two-state” address Netanyahu made last year — one that would indicate a Palestinian acceptance of a Jewish state:

Let Abbas speak in Arabic, to his own people — with his leadership colleagues on hand to publicly support and applaud him — and let him tell them that the Jews, too, have historic rights to Palestine. … Let him recall that the international community, in partitioning British mandatory Palestine, provided for a Jewish and an Arab entity side by side – that, in other words,  the provision for revived Jewish sovereignty was integral to the right the Palestinians seek to realize for their own historically unprecedented independence. And let him declare, therefore, that he recognizes that the demand for a “right of return” for millions of Palestinians to what is now Israel is a dream that must be abandoned, for the Jewish nation has the right to that small sliver of sovereign land of its own.

Memo to the Obama administration: before trying to impose a peace plan, try imposing that. Call it a confidence-building gesture.

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Obama’s Appeal Is Lost on World Leaders

Adding weight to the dominant critique of Obama’s foreign policy — that it helps our enemies and hurts our allies — is the parlous state of the U.S.-Japan alliance, the bedrock of our security in Asia since the 1940s. David Pilling of the Financial Times writes:

When Japan’s prime minister visited Washington this month, Japanese officials lobbied intensely to get him a one-on-one with Barack Obama. In the end, Yukio Hatoyama had to settle for just 10 minutes, and even that during a banquet when the US president was presumably more interested in the appetisers and wine. These things matter in Japan. One senior politician called the put-down — as it was inevitably viewed in Tokyo — “humiliating”. He even noted that the Japanese prime minister was shunted to the edge of a group photo, the diplomatic equivalent of banishment to Siberia.

It would be wrong to read too much into these titbits of protocol (though it is always fun trying). But behind the snub lies something real. The US-Japan alliance, the cornerstone of security in east Asia since 1945, has not looked so rocky in years.

Granted, the increasingly rocky relations between the U.S. and Japan are not all, or even mainly, Obama’s fault. Prime Minister Hatoyama and his left-wing party deserve the majority of the blame, because they are trying to reopen negotiations over the American base on Okinawa and generally adopting a more anti-American posture. But Obama isn’t helping.

I am reminded of this important Jackson Diehl column, which pointed out that Obama hasn’t developed a close relationship with a single foreign leader, even while he has managed to increase American popularity abroad. “In this,” Diehl wrote, “he is the opposite of George W. Bush, who was reviled among the foreign masses but who forged close ties with a host of leaders — Aznar of Spain, Uribe of Colombia, Sharon and Olmert of Israel, Koizumi of Japan.” I would add Blair of Britain to that list; the Bush-Blair chemistry was famously close, while Obama is typically aloof in his dealings with Gordon Brown (himself not exactly the world’s friendliest head of state).

Neither the Bush posture (close to foreign leaders, alienated from their publics) nor that of Obama (the darling of foreign publics, alienated from their leaders) is ideal. In theory, you’d like to have the best of both worlds, but that’s perhaps asking far too much of the leader of the world’s superpower. Which is better — the Bush or the Obama position? I’m not sure. But it’s far from clear that Obama’s global popularity is much of a boon for the U.S. insofar as he hasn’t been able to translate his celebrity status into policy results.

Adding weight to the dominant critique of Obama’s foreign policy — that it helps our enemies and hurts our allies — is the parlous state of the U.S.-Japan alliance, the bedrock of our security in Asia since the 1940s. David Pilling of the Financial Times writes:

When Japan’s prime minister visited Washington this month, Japanese officials lobbied intensely to get him a one-on-one with Barack Obama. In the end, Yukio Hatoyama had to settle for just 10 minutes, and even that during a banquet when the US president was presumably more interested in the appetisers and wine. These things matter in Japan. One senior politician called the put-down — as it was inevitably viewed in Tokyo — “humiliating”. He even noted that the Japanese prime minister was shunted to the edge of a group photo, the diplomatic equivalent of banishment to Siberia.

It would be wrong to read too much into these titbits of protocol (though it is always fun trying). But behind the snub lies something real. The US-Japan alliance, the cornerstone of security in east Asia since 1945, has not looked so rocky in years.

Granted, the increasingly rocky relations between the U.S. and Japan are not all, or even mainly, Obama’s fault. Prime Minister Hatoyama and his left-wing party deserve the majority of the blame, because they are trying to reopen negotiations over the American base on Okinawa and generally adopting a more anti-American posture. But Obama isn’t helping.

I am reminded of this important Jackson Diehl column, which pointed out that Obama hasn’t developed a close relationship with a single foreign leader, even while he has managed to increase American popularity abroad. “In this,” Diehl wrote, “he is the opposite of George W. Bush, who was reviled among the foreign masses but who forged close ties with a host of leaders — Aznar of Spain, Uribe of Colombia, Sharon and Olmert of Israel, Koizumi of Japan.” I would add Blair of Britain to that list; the Bush-Blair chemistry was famously close, while Obama is typically aloof in his dealings with Gordon Brown (himself not exactly the world’s friendliest head of state).

Neither the Bush posture (close to foreign leaders, alienated from their publics) nor that of Obama (the darling of foreign publics, alienated from their leaders) is ideal. In theory, you’d like to have the best of both worlds, but that’s perhaps asking far too much of the leader of the world’s superpower. Which is better — the Bush or the Obama position? I’m not sure. But it’s far from clear that Obama’s global popularity is much of a boon for the U.S. insofar as he hasn’t been able to translate his celebrity status into policy results.

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What Lesson Will David Cameron Teach Americans?

The prospect of Florida Governor Charlie Crist pulling out of the Florida Republican Senate primary will, no doubt, send into a tizzy those who want the GOP to move to the center and away from the dreaded Tea Partiers and Sarah Palin. While this is more a matter of a flabby, pointless Crist campaign being knocked out of the box by a hugely popular and principled opponent in Marco Rubio than of a “moderate” being driven from the party by so-called extremists, there’s no question that this race is an indication of where the Republicans are headed.

While an independent candidacy by Crist might pose a challenge to Rubio in November, those who have advocated for Republican to move closer to the Democrats on health care and a host of other issues must come to grips with the fact that all the energy and emotion in Florida has come from those who want the GOP to challenge the Obama administration, not to copy it. The point is, when Republicans lose touch with their base and find themselves bogged down in the mushy middle, they tend to lose and lose badly.

Florida’s politics couldn’t be much more different from those of Britain, but the way the general election in that country is going has to give pause to those who believe that a nonideological candidate and party of the Right is the only way to fight the Left. Conservative Party leader David Cameron thought he was coasting to inevitable victory after 13 years of Labor government. But Cameron, a telegenic upper-class swell, believed that Tories who were actually conservatives couldn’t possibly win. So he recast his party to be advocates of global-warming alarmism, criticized the closeness of the Labor government to that of George W. Bush (Obama’s disdain for Brits of any political persuasion has taken the juice out of this issue), and proposed an approach to domestic issues based on a communitarian idea of a “Big Society,” which sounds suspiciously similar to Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” liberal boondoggles of the 1960s.

Yet far from greasing the skids to victory, trying to be liberal has actually derailed his campaign. A third party, the Liberal Democrats, is further to the Left than Labor on many issues and has in Nick Clegg, a far more focused leader than either Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Labor or the good-looking but feckless Cameron. Cameron thought that fudging the differences with Labor would make it easier for him to win. But, instead, it has given Clegg and the Lib Dems an opening to be the party of change in Britain. Thus, rather than a Tory cakewalk, the May 6 election looks increasingly like a dead heat that could leave Labor in power by itself or even in coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

It could be that by discarding genuine Conservative ideology (this is the party of Margaret Thatcher, after all), Cameron may be pulling defeat from the jaws of victory. It may be too late for Cameron to tack to the Right and give voters a reason to vote for his party. As it is, a watered-down Conservative Party is rightly seen as no different from the incumbent Laborites to an electorate desperate for a real alternative.

Last November, David Frum wrote in COMMENTARY that Cameron’s tactics provided a good lesson for American conservatives as they sought to rebuild from their 2008 defeat. He believed that by tacking to the Left, Cameron had aligned his priorities with those of the country and had essentially volunteered to do what political necessity would have forced him to do anyway. As Frum put it, “the leader you want is someone who appeals to the voters you need to gain, not the voters you already have.” Since “educated and professional voters, once the backbone of the Republican party,” had swung away from conservatism, Frum believed that Republicans must follow them as Cameron had done.

David Cameron’s fate is not yet decided. And we are months away from the proof of whether a candidate like Marco Rubio will lead Republicans to victory in a key state like Florida. But if in abandoning conservative principles Cameron has set the Tories up for a colossal reversal of fortune, it may be that the lesson the handsome Brit will teach his American brethren is how to lose an election that was considered in his pocket — not how to win one.

The prospect of Florida Governor Charlie Crist pulling out of the Florida Republican Senate primary will, no doubt, send into a tizzy those who want the GOP to move to the center and away from the dreaded Tea Partiers and Sarah Palin. While this is more a matter of a flabby, pointless Crist campaign being knocked out of the box by a hugely popular and principled opponent in Marco Rubio than of a “moderate” being driven from the party by so-called extremists, there’s no question that this race is an indication of where the Republicans are headed.

While an independent candidacy by Crist might pose a challenge to Rubio in November, those who have advocated for Republican to move closer to the Democrats on health care and a host of other issues must come to grips with the fact that all the energy and emotion in Florida has come from those who want the GOP to challenge the Obama administration, not to copy it. The point is, when Republicans lose touch with their base and find themselves bogged down in the mushy middle, they tend to lose and lose badly.

Florida’s politics couldn’t be much more different from those of Britain, but the way the general election in that country is going has to give pause to those who believe that a nonideological candidate and party of the Right is the only way to fight the Left. Conservative Party leader David Cameron thought he was coasting to inevitable victory after 13 years of Labor government. But Cameron, a telegenic upper-class swell, believed that Tories who were actually conservatives couldn’t possibly win. So he recast his party to be advocates of global-warming alarmism, criticized the closeness of the Labor government to that of George W. Bush (Obama’s disdain for Brits of any political persuasion has taken the juice out of this issue), and proposed an approach to domestic issues based on a communitarian idea of a “Big Society,” which sounds suspiciously similar to Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” liberal boondoggles of the 1960s.

Yet far from greasing the skids to victory, trying to be liberal has actually derailed his campaign. A third party, the Liberal Democrats, is further to the Left than Labor on many issues and has in Nick Clegg, a far more focused leader than either Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Labor or the good-looking but feckless Cameron. Cameron thought that fudging the differences with Labor would make it easier for him to win. But, instead, it has given Clegg and the Lib Dems an opening to be the party of change in Britain. Thus, rather than a Tory cakewalk, the May 6 election looks increasingly like a dead heat that could leave Labor in power by itself or even in coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

It could be that by discarding genuine Conservative ideology (this is the party of Margaret Thatcher, after all), Cameron may be pulling defeat from the jaws of victory. It may be too late for Cameron to tack to the Right and give voters a reason to vote for his party. As it is, a watered-down Conservative Party is rightly seen as no different from the incumbent Laborites to an electorate desperate for a real alternative.

Last November, David Frum wrote in COMMENTARY that Cameron’s tactics provided a good lesson for American conservatives as they sought to rebuild from their 2008 defeat. He believed that by tacking to the Left, Cameron had aligned his priorities with those of the country and had essentially volunteered to do what political necessity would have forced him to do anyway. As Frum put it, “the leader you want is someone who appeals to the voters you need to gain, not the voters you already have.” Since “educated and professional voters, once the backbone of the Republican party,” had swung away from conservatism, Frum believed that Republicans must follow them as Cameron had done.

David Cameron’s fate is not yet decided. And we are months away from the proof of whether a candidate like Marco Rubio will lead Republicans to victory in a key state like Florida. But if in abandoning conservative principles Cameron has set the Tories up for a colossal reversal of fortune, it may be that the lesson the handsome Brit will teach his American brethren is how to lose an election that was considered in his pocket — not how to win one.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Jeffrey Herf discovers that “liberals should be willing to devote more efforts to the moral and political delegitimation of radical Islamism. It is a form of totalitarian ideology. It is profoundly reactionary and deeply anti-Semitic and, in this sense, racist. It draws on a radicalization and selective reading of the religion of Islam. During both World War II and the cold war, the United States derived great strategic value from naming its adversaries and publicly discussing and denouncing their ideologies. It fought wars of ideas that accompanied the force of arms. We need to understand the importance of doing that today as well.” Who knew?

Candidate Obama denied that Zbigniew Brzezinski was an adviser on the Middle East, but now Brzezinski’s giving Obama a nudge to impose a peace plan. It’s almost as if candidate Obama had disguised his true inclinations on Israel.

The mainstream media have hyped the comments of stray Tea Party activists but almost entirely ignored the doubling of anti-Semitic incidents in 2009. “Of course, recent history has shown American media only concerned with acts of violence when they fit into an agenda being advanced.”

Maybe we should bring back the term “Islamic radicalism“: “Chilling new details about the foiled Al Qaeda plot to blow up the city’s busiest subways have emerged as a fourth suspect was quietly arrested in Pakistan, the Daily News has learned. The unidentified man, who helped plan the plot, is expected to be extradited to the U.S. to betried in Brooklyn Federal Court with Adis Medunjanin and Zarein Ahmedzay of Flushing, Queens, sources said.”

Imagine the damage she’d do with a lifetime appointment: “The White House moved quickly today to squelch the widening speculation that Hillary Clinton could be nominated to the Supreme Court, as Senator Orrin Hatch suggested this morning.”

Shocking as it may seem, North Korea is not going to be sweet-talked into giving up its nuclear ambitions.

It’s not just Israel that’s staying away: “President Obama is holding one of the biggest global summits ever on U.S. soil starting Monday, but for all the hoopla, the event will be missing America’s strongest allies. As remarkable as it is, the fact that neither British Prime Minister Gordon Brown nor Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are attending President Obama’s nuclear security summit in Washington Monday and Tuesday is not altogether surprising.Relations with both countries — Israel in particular — have grown strained under Obama. Combined with Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s recent defiance of the administration, questions are growing about the president’s ability to maintain important relationships. … The president’s critics, many of them from the Bush administration, say the summit absences — heads of state from Australia and Saudia Arabia also are not attending — are the most glaring examples of a floundering foreign policy that treats rivals and enemies better than friends.”

An expensive broken promise by Obama: “Taxpayers earning less than $200,000 a year will pay roughly $3.9 billion more in taxes — in 2019 alone — because of healthcare reform, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, Congress’s official scorekeeper for legislation. The new law raises $15.2 billion over 10 years by limiting the medical expense deduction, a provision widely used by taxpayers who either have a serious illness or are older.”

Charles Krauthammer on Bart Stupak: “The guy’s political epitaph will read ‘A good man who played over his head.’ He held out and then he got squeezed by the president and the speaker. He caved. And the worst part of it was that he pretended that the instrument of surrender he signed was a victory. It’s a sad ending to a long career.”

Jeffrey Herf discovers that “liberals should be willing to devote more efforts to the moral and political delegitimation of radical Islamism. It is a form of totalitarian ideology. It is profoundly reactionary and deeply anti-Semitic and, in this sense, racist. It draws on a radicalization and selective reading of the religion of Islam. During both World War II and the cold war, the United States derived great strategic value from naming its adversaries and publicly discussing and denouncing their ideologies. It fought wars of ideas that accompanied the force of arms. We need to understand the importance of doing that today as well.” Who knew?

Candidate Obama denied that Zbigniew Brzezinski was an adviser on the Middle East, but now Brzezinski’s giving Obama a nudge to impose a peace plan. It’s almost as if candidate Obama had disguised his true inclinations on Israel.

The mainstream media have hyped the comments of stray Tea Party activists but almost entirely ignored the doubling of anti-Semitic incidents in 2009. “Of course, recent history has shown American media only concerned with acts of violence when they fit into an agenda being advanced.”

Maybe we should bring back the term “Islamic radicalism“: “Chilling new details about the foiled Al Qaeda plot to blow up the city’s busiest subways have emerged as a fourth suspect was quietly arrested in Pakistan, the Daily News has learned. The unidentified man, who helped plan the plot, is expected to be extradited to the U.S. to betried in Brooklyn Federal Court with Adis Medunjanin and Zarein Ahmedzay of Flushing, Queens, sources said.”

Imagine the damage she’d do with a lifetime appointment: “The White House moved quickly today to squelch the widening speculation that Hillary Clinton could be nominated to the Supreme Court, as Senator Orrin Hatch suggested this morning.”

Shocking as it may seem, North Korea is not going to be sweet-talked into giving up its nuclear ambitions.

It’s not just Israel that’s staying away: “President Obama is holding one of the biggest global summits ever on U.S. soil starting Monday, but for all the hoopla, the event will be missing America’s strongest allies. As remarkable as it is, the fact that neither British Prime Minister Gordon Brown nor Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are attending President Obama’s nuclear security summit in Washington Monday and Tuesday is not altogether surprising.Relations with both countries — Israel in particular — have grown strained under Obama. Combined with Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s recent defiance of the administration, questions are growing about the president’s ability to maintain important relationships. … The president’s critics, many of them from the Bush administration, say the summit absences — heads of state from Australia and Saudia Arabia also are not attending — are the most glaring examples of a floundering foreign policy that treats rivals and enemies better than friends.”

An expensive broken promise by Obama: “Taxpayers earning less than $200,000 a year will pay roughly $3.9 billion more in taxes — in 2019 alone — because of healthcare reform, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, Congress’s official scorekeeper for legislation. The new law raises $15.2 billion over 10 years by limiting the medical expense deduction, a provision widely used by taxpayers who either have a serious illness or are older.”

Charles Krauthammer on Bart Stupak: “The guy’s political epitaph will read ‘A good man who played over his head.’ He held out and then he got squeezed by the president and the speaker. He caved. And the worst part of it was that he pretended that the instrument of surrender he signed was a victory. It’s a sad ending to a long career.”

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Spinning Obama’s Foreign-Policy Flops

Earlier this month, Jackson Diehl detailed Obama’s lack of success in forging productive relationships with foreign leaders. Now Obama’s dutiful flacks and media handmaidens take to the front page of Diehl’s paper to explain Obama was merely making use of his “charisma.” Now he is getting around to those relationships. There is this jaw-dropping bit of spin:

The change from a year ago is stark. In his widely broadcast address in Cairo last June, Obama called Israeli settlements in the occupied territories “illegitimate.” By contrast, he met last week at the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for two hours, urging him privately to freeze Jewish settlement construction.

What relationship is Obama making use of there? If this is Obama’s idea of a forging bonds with foreign leaders (condemning his country, reading the prime minister the riot act, twice snubbing Netanyahu during his White House visits), our foreign-policy apparatus surely is guilty of gross malfeasance. Then the blind quotes are trotted out to — surprise, surprise — ding George W. Bush and explain how Obama’s newfound personal diplomacy is vastly superior to his predecessor’s:

“Obama is not the sort of guy who looks for a best buddy, and that’s very different than Bush,” said a European diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly about perceptions of U.S. leaders abroad. “Sometimes being too personal is not a good thing. You can make mistakes.”

No, Obama is the sort of guy who returns the Winston Churchill bust, gives Gordon Brown and the Queen of England cheap-o gifts, bows to dictators, and slams the elected prime minister of Israel. Completely different. But even the Washington Post must concede that Obama has not forged really any productive relationships with world leaders:

Obama, who was an Illinois state senator just four years before he was elected president, knew few world leaders upon taking office. Since then, he has developed mostly arm’s-length relationships with fellow heads of state, including many from developing countries that previous presidents largely ignored or shunned to protect U.S. relationships with more traditional allies.

Let’s get real — Obama has not really used his charisma to promote anything but himself:

Republican critics say the approach has unsettled the United States’ best friends, and failed more than succeeded in promoting American interests on some of the most far-reaching foreign policy challenges of the day.

Obama’s direct appeal to the people of China and Iran[ Did we miss this? Was he championing democracy at some point?], for example, has produced little change in the attitude of their governments, showing the limits of a bottom-up approach when it comes to dealing with authoritarian countries. Middle East peace talks remain moribund after the administration’s so-far-unsuccessful attempts to end Israeli settlement construction or to persuade Arab governments to make even token diplomatic gestures toward the Jewish state.

As Simon Serfaty of theCenter for Strategic and International Studies notes, “He is beginning to face a crisis of efficacy.” In other words, despite all the reverential treatment by liberal elites, Obama has yet to develop effective ties with allies or used public diplomacy to further American interests. His infatuation with dictatorial regimes, his embrace of multilateralism, and his willingness to kick allies (e.g., Israel, Poland, the Czech Republic, Britain, Honduras) in the shins have left America more isolated and rogue states more emboldened than ever before. An assessment from Der Spiegel put it this way, recalling Obama’s Cairo speech (which the Obami still laud as an achievement of some sort):

The applause for Obama’s Cairo speech died away in the vast expanses of the Arabian Desert long ago. “He says all the right things, but implementation is exactly the way it has always been,” says Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal.

Obama’s failure in the Middle East is but one example of his weakness, though a particularly drastic and vivid one. The president, widely celebrated when he took office, cannot claim to have achieved sweeping successes in any area. When he began his term more than a year ago, he came across as an ambitious developer who had every intention of completing multiple projects at once. But after a year, none of those projects has even progressed beyond the early construction phase. And in some cases, the sites are nothing but deep excavations. … Obama can hardly count on gaining the support of allies, partly because he doesn’t pay much attention to them. The American president doesn’t have a single strong ally among European heads of state

Perhaps less time spent crafting stories for the Post and more time working on a viable foreign policy built on American interests rather than Obama’s ego would be in order.

Earlier this month, Jackson Diehl detailed Obama’s lack of success in forging productive relationships with foreign leaders. Now Obama’s dutiful flacks and media handmaidens take to the front page of Diehl’s paper to explain Obama was merely making use of his “charisma.” Now he is getting around to those relationships. There is this jaw-dropping bit of spin:

The change from a year ago is stark. In his widely broadcast address in Cairo last June, Obama called Israeli settlements in the occupied territories “illegitimate.” By contrast, he met last week at the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for two hours, urging him privately to freeze Jewish settlement construction.

What relationship is Obama making use of there? If this is Obama’s idea of a forging bonds with foreign leaders (condemning his country, reading the prime minister the riot act, twice snubbing Netanyahu during his White House visits), our foreign-policy apparatus surely is guilty of gross malfeasance. Then the blind quotes are trotted out to — surprise, surprise — ding George W. Bush and explain how Obama’s newfound personal diplomacy is vastly superior to his predecessor’s:

“Obama is not the sort of guy who looks for a best buddy, and that’s very different than Bush,” said a European diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly about perceptions of U.S. leaders abroad. “Sometimes being too personal is not a good thing. You can make mistakes.”

No, Obama is the sort of guy who returns the Winston Churchill bust, gives Gordon Brown and the Queen of England cheap-o gifts, bows to dictators, and slams the elected prime minister of Israel. Completely different. But even the Washington Post must concede that Obama has not forged really any productive relationships with world leaders:

Obama, who was an Illinois state senator just four years before he was elected president, knew few world leaders upon taking office. Since then, he has developed mostly arm’s-length relationships with fellow heads of state, including many from developing countries that previous presidents largely ignored or shunned to protect U.S. relationships with more traditional allies.

Let’s get real — Obama has not really used his charisma to promote anything but himself:

Republican critics say the approach has unsettled the United States’ best friends, and failed more than succeeded in promoting American interests on some of the most far-reaching foreign policy challenges of the day.

Obama’s direct appeal to the people of China and Iran[ Did we miss this? Was he championing democracy at some point?], for example, has produced little change in the attitude of their governments, showing the limits of a bottom-up approach when it comes to dealing with authoritarian countries. Middle East peace talks remain moribund after the administration’s so-far-unsuccessful attempts to end Israeli settlement construction or to persuade Arab governments to make even token diplomatic gestures toward the Jewish state.

As Simon Serfaty of theCenter for Strategic and International Studies notes, “He is beginning to face a crisis of efficacy.” In other words, despite all the reverential treatment by liberal elites, Obama has yet to develop effective ties with allies or used public diplomacy to further American interests. His infatuation with dictatorial regimes, his embrace of multilateralism, and his willingness to kick allies (e.g., Israel, Poland, the Czech Republic, Britain, Honduras) in the shins have left America more isolated and rogue states more emboldened than ever before. An assessment from Der Spiegel put it this way, recalling Obama’s Cairo speech (which the Obami still laud as an achievement of some sort):

The applause for Obama’s Cairo speech died away in the vast expanses of the Arabian Desert long ago. “He says all the right things, but implementation is exactly the way it has always been,” says Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal.

Obama’s failure in the Middle East is but one example of his weakness, though a particularly drastic and vivid one. The president, widely celebrated when he took office, cannot claim to have achieved sweeping successes in any area. When he began his term more than a year ago, he came across as an ambitious developer who had every intention of completing multiple projects at once. But after a year, none of those projects has even progressed beyond the early construction phase. And in some cases, the sites are nothing but deep excavations. … Obama can hardly count on gaining the support of allies, partly because he doesn’t pay much attention to them. The American president doesn’t have a single strong ally among European heads of state

Perhaps less time spent crafting stories for the Post and more time working on a viable foreign policy built on American interests rather than Obama’s ego would be in order.

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Gordon Brown: Stand-up Guy

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown hasn’t had an easy time of it since finally succeeding Tony Blair in 2007. The dour Scotsman has suffered from the fallout of his Labour party’s having been in power too long to retain the public’s goodwill. His reputation as an expert on financial issues turned out to be a liability rather than an asset when the global economy went in the tank in 2008. And to top it all off, he now has an alliance partner in Washington in Barack Obama, whose contempt for the United Kingdom and its government, as well as the whole concept of the “special relationship” with Britain, is not exactly a secret.

Brown is facing an election sometime this spring, which no one thinks he can win — even though his Conservative opponent David Cameron seems to be losing popularity as he tries to coast into office by simply not being Brown. So when he was called today before the commission investigating Britain’s decision to go to war alongside the United States in Iraq, Brown might have thrown both the Americans and his former boss and rival Blair under the bus and tried to curry favor with a British electorate, which seems to view the war and the close ties between the U.S. and the Blair government with equal disdain.

But if Brown is going down, he’s not doing it like an anti-American weasel. He told the Chilcot Commission that the decision to go to war in Iraq “was the right decision made for the right reasons.” Though he later said that he thought the Americans hadn’t planned adequately for the rebuilding of the country (no kidding) and also made it clear that he was not included in most of the high-level conversations about the war, he stuck by the decision made by Blair and didn’t give any ground to those who have tried to argue that the former prime minister made inappropriate promises of support to George W. Bush.

History, and not the leftist propaganda that has dominated the media discussion of Iraq in both the United States and Britain in recent years on this issue, will be the ultimate judge of the rightness of the decision to liberate Iraq. Many mistakes were made and many lives were lost. But though the testimonies of both Blair and Brown were different in tone — with Blair emphasizing the morality of the decision to topple Saddam Hussein, while Brown stuck to the legal questions of the Iraqi dictator’s flouting of UN resolutions — both reaffirmed the just nature of the war. Whether or not Brown is reelected, and there are plenty of good reasons for the British to throw Labour out — it must be stipulated that he conducted himself as an American ally today. If Brown is on the way out, let’s just hope David Cameron proves to be as faithful a friend to the United States as were Blair and Brown. And let’s also hope that Barack Obama treats him better than he has treated Brown.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown hasn’t had an easy time of it since finally succeeding Tony Blair in 2007. The dour Scotsman has suffered from the fallout of his Labour party’s having been in power too long to retain the public’s goodwill. His reputation as an expert on financial issues turned out to be a liability rather than an asset when the global economy went in the tank in 2008. And to top it all off, he now has an alliance partner in Washington in Barack Obama, whose contempt for the United Kingdom and its government, as well as the whole concept of the “special relationship” with Britain, is not exactly a secret.

Brown is facing an election sometime this spring, which no one thinks he can win — even though his Conservative opponent David Cameron seems to be losing popularity as he tries to coast into office by simply not being Brown. So when he was called today before the commission investigating Britain’s decision to go to war alongside the United States in Iraq, Brown might have thrown both the Americans and his former boss and rival Blair under the bus and tried to curry favor with a British electorate, which seems to view the war and the close ties between the U.S. and the Blair government with equal disdain.

But if Brown is going down, he’s not doing it like an anti-American weasel. He told the Chilcot Commission that the decision to go to war in Iraq “was the right decision made for the right reasons.” Though he later said that he thought the Americans hadn’t planned adequately for the rebuilding of the country (no kidding) and also made it clear that he was not included in most of the high-level conversations about the war, he stuck by the decision made by Blair and didn’t give any ground to those who have tried to argue that the former prime minister made inappropriate promises of support to George W. Bush.

History, and not the leftist propaganda that has dominated the media discussion of Iraq in both the United States and Britain in recent years on this issue, will be the ultimate judge of the rightness of the decision to liberate Iraq. Many mistakes were made and many lives were lost. But though the testimonies of both Blair and Brown were different in tone — with Blair emphasizing the morality of the decision to topple Saddam Hussein, while Brown stuck to the legal questions of the Iraqi dictator’s flouting of UN resolutions — both reaffirmed the just nature of the war. Whether or not Brown is reelected, and there are plenty of good reasons for the British to throw Labour out — it must be stipulated that he conducted himself as an American ally today. If Brown is on the way out, let’s just hope David Cameron proves to be as faithful a friend to the United States as were Blair and Brown. And let’s also hope that Barack Obama treats him better than he has treated Brown.

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The Conservative Party and British National Security

In a major speech on Friday at Chatham House, David Cameron set out how the Conservative party would approach the issue of national security should it win the forthcoming general election. His theme was the value of connection — both domestically, with an emphasis on what Britain has to gain from better joined-up government, and abroad, emphasizing Britain’s need to see conflicts as a whole, and to respond to threats before they become crises.

There’s nothing that can be said against the idea that government should be better coordinated, or more forward-looking. Of course, advancing this idea while out of power is simpler than achieving it while in power. The creation of a National Security Council is not likely to persuade the Foreign Office, the Treasury, the Ministry of Defense, and all the other players in Whitehall to abandon their institutional interests, just as the American NSC has palpably failed to achieve this in Washington.

Aaron Friedberg’s short, superb study of the collapse of strategic planning in the U.S. is very relevant here. It argues that the task of the NSC is to be “an aid to the collective thinking of the highest echelons of the government … [not] a mechanism for the production of operational plans.” It may be that Cameron’s vision of the role of his NSC leans a little more toward the vision of NSC as planner in chief than Friedberg would wish.

On the other hand, Cameron is clearly right to argue that the existing system in Britain treats national security as, at best, a second-order concern; that it has allowed development aid and post-conflict planning to become disconnected from the national interest or to go AWOL entirely; and that, in an age of Islamist terror, security must begin at home. If a British NSC can assist Prime Minister Cameron and his cabinet in implementing policies based on these preferences — and especially on the last one — it will be a good deal more than a step in the right direction.

For my money, the most interesting parts of Cameron’s speech – and the accompanying Green Paper that the speech launched — were those that dealt not with machinery but with attitudes. It’s always easy for politicians — especially newly elected ones — to blame the system: President Obama has done a good deal of this, especially recently. But this is not helpful: systems are always less than optimal, and, especially in a war with a determined and intelligent enemy, they are always going to fail.

Systems, in the end, matter less than leadership that acknowledges when it’s in a war and demands that responsible people take decisions and accept responsibility for them. The problem is ultimately one of culture. That was exactly the note on which Cameron ended, and while, again, it is obviously more pleasant to call for responsibility when out of office than it is to accept responsibility once in it, Cameron’s speech was a refreshing change from Gordon Brown’s determination to evade responsibility for all the errors for which, as chancellor of the exchequer and then as prime minister, he bears a central responsibility.

In a major speech on Friday at Chatham House, David Cameron set out how the Conservative party would approach the issue of national security should it win the forthcoming general election. His theme was the value of connection — both domestically, with an emphasis on what Britain has to gain from better joined-up government, and abroad, emphasizing Britain’s need to see conflicts as a whole, and to respond to threats before they become crises.

There’s nothing that can be said against the idea that government should be better coordinated, or more forward-looking. Of course, advancing this idea while out of power is simpler than achieving it while in power. The creation of a National Security Council is not likely to persuade the Foreign Office, the Treasury, the Ministry of Defense, and all the other players in Whitehall to abandon their institutional interests, just as the American NSC has palpably failed to achieve this in Washington.

Aaron Friedberg’s short, superb study of the collapse of strategic planning in the U.S. is very relevant here. It argues that the task of the NSC is to be “an aid to the collective thinking of the highest echelons of the government … [not] a mechanism for the production of operational plans.” It may be that Cameron’s vision of the role of his NSC leans a little more toward the vision of NSC as planner in chief than Friedberg would wish.

On the other hand, Cameron is clearly right to argue that the existing system in Britain treats national security as, at best, a second-order concern; that it has allowed development aid and post-conflict planning to become disconnected from the national interest or to go AWOL entirely; and that, in an age of Islamist terror, security must begin at home. If a British NSC can assist Prime Minister Cameron and his cabinet in implementing policies based on these preferences — and especially on the last one — it will be a good deal more than a step in the right direction.

For my money, the most interesting parts of Cameron’s speech – and the accompanying Green Paper that the speech launched — were those that dealt not with machinery but with attitudes. It’s always easy for politicians — especially newly elected ones — to blame the system: President Obama has done a good deal of this, especially recently. But this is not helpful: systems are always less than optimal, and, especially in a war with a determined and intelligent enemy, they are always going to fail.

Systems, in the end, matter less than leadership that acknowledges when it’s in a war and demands that responsible people take decisions and accept responsibility for them. The problem is ultimately one of culture. That was exactly the note on which Cameron ended, and while, again, it is obviously more pleasant to call for responsibility when out of office than it is to accept responsibility once in it, Cameron’s speech was a refreshing change from Gordon Brown’s determination to evade responsibility for all the errors for which, as chancellor of the exchequer and then as prime minister, he bears a central responsibility.

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The Economy Drive

The parlous state of Britain’s economy and budget and the necessity of cuts in government spending should be common knowledge. The British public certainly grasps the situation. Its one manifestation is the data by the polling firm Ipsos-MORI. In its latest monthly “Issues Index,” which invites interviewees to name as many issues of concern as they care to, “Economy/Economic Situation” stands at 49%.

By contrast, issues that Labour might be thought to own, such as “Pollution/Environment” (8%), “Poverty/Inequality” (7%), and “Low Pay” (3%) are of distinctly tertiary importance to the public. Given today’s statement by Pimco’s Head of Global Portfolio Management that Britain stands a better than 80% chance of losing its AAA credit rating, on the grounds that the government’s debt reduction plan “is lacking in conviction and . . . is lacking in details,” focusing on the economy makes a good deal of sense.

As Pimco’s criticism of the government implies, the only man not willing to grasp the nettle of reality is Gordon Brown. Mike Smithson, the proprietor of the lively Political Betting blog, points out that in a weekend interview with Andrew Marr, Brown refused to acknowledge even the possibility of cuts in government spending.  As Smithson puts it, “The interviewing trait where Mr. Brown is at his most vulnerable is when he seeks to deny something that is clearly the case. Less charitable people than me might use the word ‘porkie.’ The problem is that he does this when it is so obvious.”

A big part of dealing with the problem of government spending will be reducing the size and cost of the British civil service. This is a problem in the U.S. as well, as publications such as the Economist and columnists like Michael Barone have pointed out recently, but anything the U.S. does in this context, the UK can do worse. The most recent Sunday Times notes that in 2009, 21.1% of all UK labor was employed by the state, and that – measured by hours on the job, rate of wage inflation, or salary – it is almost always better to be paid by the government than by a private employer. Even in the highest paid job, the private sector pays better salaries, but the government offers a much larger pension.

What’s more, some British ministries have become increasingly top heavy: more generals, fewer privates. In the Ministry of Defense, for instance, the number of workers in the lowest two pay grades has fallen by about 19,000 since 1997, while the upper tiers have increased by 2,000. I have my suspicions about just how real the headcount reductions are – you can achieve seeming miracles by contracting out, as the MoD has done extensively under Labour – but even if you take the cuts seriously, they’ve not stopped total civilian pay from rising 13% from 2003/04 to 2008/09, as against a 12% rise for pay to the forces. The cost of the senior grade pay and pensions must be a major part of that increase, which is particularly scandalous given Labour’s general cheapness when it comes to defense spending, and what should have been the effect of a substantial decrease in the size of the MoD.

The pension question is particularly interesting and dangerous. The Institute of Directors estimates that the unfunded cost of public-sector pensions in Britain over the next 50 years is about 335 billion pounds. Given the relative sizes of their economies, that’s even larger than the $2 trillion shortfall the U.S. faces, according to the Financial Times. And every time Brown or Obama hires someone else, that shortfall gets a little bigger, and the size of the productive economy gets a little smaller.

It makes me think, first, of the superb “Yes Minister” episode on “The Economy Drive,” in which Sir Humphrey proves to Jim Hacker that, in order to achieve increased efficiency, you have to hire more people. And, second, of Margaret Thatcher.  The UK National Archives have just released some of her early Prime Ministerial memos. Her first priority: cut the civil service by at least 5%, and preferably by 20%. “What,” she asked, “are we doing with 566,000 that can’t be done with 500,000?” An excellent question, then and now.

The parlous state of Britain’s economy and budget and the necessity of cuts in government spending should be common knowledge. The British public certainly grasps the situation. Its one manifestation is the data by the polling firm Ipsos-MORI. In its latest monthly “Issues Index,” which invites interviewees to name as many issues of concern as they care to, “Economy/Economic Situation” stands at 49%.

By contrast, issues that Labour might be thought to own, such as “Pollution/Environment” (8%), “Poverty/Inequality” (7%), and “Low Pay” (3%) are of distinctly tertiary importance to the public. Given today’s statement by Pimco’s Head of Global Portfolio Management that Britain stands a better than 80% chance of losing its AAA credit rating, on the grounds that the government’s debt reduction plan “is lacking in conviction and . . . is lacking in details,” focusing on the economy makes a good deal of sense.

As Pimco’s criticism of the government implies, the only man not willing to grasp the nettle of reality is Gordon Brown. Mike Smithson, the proprietor of the lively Political Betting blog, points out that in a weekend interview with Andrew Marr, Brown refused to acknowledge even the possibility of cuts in government spending.  As Smithson puts it, “The interviewing trait where Mr. Brown is at his most vulnerable is when he seeks to deny something that is clearly the case. Less charitable people than me might use the word ‘porkie.’ The problem is that he does this when it is so obvious.”

A big part of dealing with the problem of government spending will be reducing the size and cost of the British civil service. This is a problem in the U.S. as well, as publications such as the Economist and columnists like Michael Barone have pointed out recently, but anything the U.S. does in this context, the UK can do worse. The most recent Sunday Times notes that in 2009, 21.1% of all UK labor was employed by the state, and that – measured by hours on the job, rate of wage inflation, or salary – it is almost always better to be paid by the government than by a private employer. Even in the highest paid job, the private sector pays better salaries, but the government offers a much larger pension.

What’s more, some British ministries have become increasingly top heavy: more generals, fewer privates. In the Ministry of Defense, for instance, the number of workers in the lowest two pay grades has fallen by about 19,000 since 1997, while the upper tiers have increased by 2,000. I have my suspicions about just how real the headcount reductions are – you can achieve seeming miracles by contracting out, as the MoD has done extensively under Labour – but even if you take the cuts seriously, they’ve not stopped total civilian pay from rising 13% from 2003/04 to 2008/09, as against a 12% rise for pay to the forces. The cost of the senior grade pay and pensions must be a major part of that increase, which is particularly scandalous given Labour’s general cheapness when it comes to defense spending, and what should have been the effect of a substantial decrease in the size of the MoD.

The pension question is particularly interesting and dangerous. The Institute of Directors estimates that the unfunded cost of public-sector pensions in Britain over the next 50 years is about 335 billion pounds. Given the relative sizes of their economies, that’s even larger than the $2 trillion shortfall the U.S. faces, according to the Financial Times. And every time Brown or Obama hires someone else, that shortfall gets a little bigger, and the size of the productive economy gets a little smaller.

It makes me think, first, of the superb “Yes Minister” episode on “The Economy Drive,” in which Sir Humphrey proves to Jim Hacker that, in order to achieve increased efficiency, you have to hire more people. And, second, of Margaret Thatcher.  The UK National Archives have just released some of her early Prime Ministerial memos. Her first priority: cut the civil service by at least 5%, and preferably by 20%. “What,” she asked, “are we doing with 566,000 that can’t be done with 500,000?” An excellent question, then and now.

Read Less

A Lesson for London

Meeting with Israeli officials in Jerusalem this morning, British Attorney General Baroness Scotland reiterated her government’s pledge to amend the “universal jurisdiction” law under which British courts have repeatedly issued arrest warrants against Israeli officers and politicians. That pledge, first made by Prime Minister Gordon Brown last month, outraged the Muslim Council of Britain, which accused the government of being “partisan” and “compliant to [Israeli] demands.”

But if Britain keeps its word, the pro-Palestinian activists who keep seeking, and getting, those warrants will have only themselves to blame. After all, British courts have issued such warrants for years without the British government batting an eye, despite vociferous Israeli protests, and could probably have continued doing so had activists only picked their targets a little more carefully. The British couldn’t care less if Israeli army officers canceled planned visits for fear of being arrested, as yet another group did last week. Ditto for right-of-center politicians such as Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who aborted a planned trip in November: Britain would rather not hear from Israelis who think peace with the Palestinians is currently impossible.

But the activists overreached last month by securing a warrant against former foreign minister and current opposition leader Tzipi Livni. Livni is the Great White Hope of peace-processors worldwide, the Israeli deemed most likely to sign a deal with the Palestinians. She won praise from her Palestinian interlocutors during a year of final-status negotiations in 2008; she publicly declares that any Israeli premier’s primary responsibility, far above such trivialities as preventing Iran from getting the bomb, is to create a Palestinian state. And, not coincidentally, she is the most left-wing Israeli who could conceivably become prime minister. If even Livni can’t travel to Britain, London would be left with no Israelis to talk to at all.

And for the pro-Palestinian radicals who seek these warrants, that’s precisely the point. In their view, there are no “good” Israelis; all Israelis (except those who favor abolishing their own country) are evil and deserve to be in jail. There’s no difference between Livni, passionately committed to Palestinian statehood, and a right-wing extremist, because Livni and the extremist are equally guilty of the cardinal sins: both believe Israel should continue to exist as a Jewish state, and both are willing to fight to defend it.

In truth, Britain ought to amend the law for its own sake: while Israelis can live without visiting London, a country whose soldiers are in combat from Iraq to Afghanistan has much to lose from encouraging universal jurisdiction, which allows any country to try any other country’s nationals for “war crimes” committed anywhere in the world, even if neither crime nor criminal has any connection to the indicting country. Hence if the Livni warrant does finally spur London to action, Britain will benefit no less than Israel does.

But it would be even more useful if the case finally prompted Britons to recognize the pro-Palestinian radicals’ true goal: not “peace,” but the end of Israel.

Meeting with Israeli officials in Jerusalem this morning, British Attorney General Baroness Scotland reiterated her government’s pledge to amend the “universal jurisdiction” law under which British courts have repeatedly issued arrest warrants against Israeli officers and politicians. That pledge, first made by Prime Minister Gordon Brown last month, outraged the Muslim Council of Britain, which accused the government of being “partisan” and “compliant to [Israeli] demands.”

But if Britain keeps its word, the pro-Palestinian activists who keep seeking, and getting, those warrants will have only themselves to blame. After all, British courts have issued such warrants for years without the British government batting an eye, despite vociferous Israeli protests, and could probably have continued doing so had activists only picked their targets a little more carefully. The British couldn’t care less if Israeli army officers canceled planned visits for fear of being arrested, as yet another group did last week. Ditto for right-of-center politicians such as Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who aborted a planned trip in November: Britain would rather not hear from Israelis who think peace with the Palestinians is currently impossible.

But the activists overreached last month by securing a warrant against former foreign minister and current opposition leader Tzipi Livni. Livni is the Great White Hope of peace-processors worldwide, the Israeli deemed most likely to sign a deal with the Palestinians. She won praise from her Palestinian interlocutors during a year of final-status negotiations in 2008; she publicly declares that any Israeli premier’s primary responsibility, far above such trivialities as preventing Iran from getting the bomb, is to create a Palestinian state. And, not coincidentally, she is the most left-wing Israeli who could conceivably become prime minister. If even Livni can’t travel to Britain, London would be left with no Israelis to talk to at all.

And for the pro-Palestinian radicals who seek these warrants, that’s precisely the point. In their view, there are no “good” Israelis; all Israelis (except those who favor abolishing their own country) are evil and deserve to be in jail. There’s no difference between Livni, passionately committed to Palestinian statehood, and a right-wing extremist, because Livni and the extremist are equally guilty of the cardinal sins: both believe Israel should continue to exist as a Jewish state, and both are willing to fight to defend it.

In truth, Britain ought to amend the law for its own sake: while Israelis can live without visiting London, a country whose soldiers are in combat from Iraq to Afghanistan has much to lose from encouraging universal jurisdiction, which allows any country to try any other country’s nationals for “war crimes” committed anywhere in the world, even if neither crime nor criminal has any connection to the indicting country. Hence if the Livni warrant does finally spur London to action, Britain will benefit no less than Israel does.

But it would be even more useful if the case finally prompted Britons to recognize the pro-Palestinian radicals’ true goal: not “peace,” but the end of Israel.

Read Less

Why Is Obama So Disrespectful of Britain?

The Daily Mail today points out (h/t Instapundit) that Barack Obama, as candidate and president, has not said a single word in a speech regarding the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom. That overstates the case a bit, as he did, at least once, use the phrase at a press conference with Prime Minister Gordon Brown when he visited Britain in April.

But the Daily Mail is right in general. Obama has been minimal, to say the least, in his treatment of Great Britain. In his speech at West Point last week, he did not mention Britain. This despite the fact that the British have been our staunchest ally in both Iraq and Afghanistan, where the British now have 10,000 soldiers and have suffered 237 killed, more than a hundred this year alone. That’s 15 percent of all deaths in Afghanistan and 25 percent of the number of soldiers the United States has lost there. In other words, Britain has lost more soldiers in Afghanistan, relative to its population, than has the United States. And its contribution to the war effort has been every bit as large relative to its economy.

Obama has not only mostly ignored our British ally, he has positively insulted them.  Hardly had he moved into the Oval Office when he ordered that a bronze bust of Winston Churchill be returned to the British embassy. It had been given to the White House, in a symbolic gesture of solidarity, shortly after 9/11 .

When Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited the White House in March, he was denied a joint press conference and a formal dinner, as is standard when world leaders have talks with the president. Brown gave the president a pen holder made from the timbers of HMS Gannet, which had played an active part in suppressing the slave trade in the early 19th century. He also gave him the commissioning papers of HMS Resolute, which had been trapped in arctic ice, abandoned, found by an American whaling vessel, purchased by Congress, and presented to Queen Victoria as a gesture of friendship. In 1880, after the Resolute was broken up, the Queen ordered two magnificent desks made from her timbers. One is in Buckingham Palace. The other was presented to President Rutherford B. Hayes and has been used by almost every president since, including Barack Obama.

Obama gave Brown, not a movie buff, a bunch of classic American films on DVDs that won’t even play on British DVD players.

Although Obama bowed deeply to the King of Saudi Arabia and the Emperor of Japan, when he met Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace in April, a hand shake was deemed sufficient.

When Brown came to the United States for the UN General Assembly meeting and the G20 summit in September, Obama refused repeated requests by the British Foreign Office to meet privately with Brown, although he found time to meet with the presidents of Russia and China, and the Japanese prime minister.

Why is the Obama White House treating the British this way? What has it got to gain from deliberate rudeness, such as returning the gift of a bust of the man who in 1940 saved the world — including the United States — from “a new Dark Age, made more sinister and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science”?

Why treat Gordon Brown as though he headed the government of a banana republic rather than the world’s sixth-largest economy and one of the few friendly countries on earth with serious military capabilities?

Like so much of this administration, it seems just gratuitous arrogance.

The Daily Mail today points out (h/t Instapundit) that Barack Obama, as candidate and president, has not said a single word in a speech regarding the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom. That overstates the case a bit, as he did, at least once, use the phrase at a press conference with Prime Minister Gordon Brown when he visited Britain in April.

But the Daily Mail is right in general. Obama has been minimal, to say the least, in his treatment of Great Britain. In his speech at West Point last week, he did not mention Britain. This despite the fact that the British have been our staunchest ally in both Iraq and Afghanistan, where the British now have 10,000 soldiers and have suffered 237 killed, more than a hundred this year alone. That’s 15 percent of all deaths in Afghanistan and 25 percent of the number of soldiers the United States has lost there. In other words, Britain has lost more soldiers in Afghanistan, relative to its population, than has the United States. And its contribution to the war effort has been every bit as large relative to its economy.

Obama has not only mostly ignored our British ally, he has positively insulted them.  Hardly had he moved into the Oval Office when he ordered that a bronze bust of Winston Churchill be returned to the British embassy. It had been given to the White House, in a symbolic gesture of solidarity, shortly after 9/11 .

When Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited the White House in March, he was denied a joint press conference and a formal dinner, as is standard when world leaders have talks with the president. Brown gave the president a pen holder made from the timbers of HMS Gannet, which had played an active part in suppressing the slave trade in the early 19th century. He also gave him the commissioning papers of HMS Resolute, which had been trapped in arctic ice, abandoned, found by an American whaling vessel, purchased by Congress, and presented to Queen Victoria as a gesture of friendship. In 1880, after the Resolute was broken up, the Queen ordered two magnificent desks made from her timbers. One is in Buckingham Palace. The other was presented to President Rutherford B. Hayes and has been used by almost every president since, including Barack Obama.

Obama gave Brown, not a movie buff, a bunch of classic American films on DVDs that won’t even play on British DVD players.

Although Obama bowed deeply to the King of Saudi Arabia and the Emperor of Japan, when he met Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace in April, a hand shake was deemed sufficient.

When Brown came to the United States for the UN General Assembly meeting and the G20 summit in September, Obama refused repeated requests by the British Foreign Office to meet privately with Brown, although he found time to meet with the presidents of Russia and China, and the Japanese prime minister.

Why is the Obama White House treating the British this way? What has it got to gain from deliberate rudeness, such as returning the gift of a bust of the man who in 1940 saved the world — including the United States — from “a new Dark Age, made more sinister and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science”?

Why treat Gordon Brown as though he headed the government of a banana republic rather than the world’s sixth-largest economy and one of the few friendly countries on earth with serious military capabilities?

Like so much of this administration, it seems just gratuitous arrogance.

Read Less

The Imprudent Copenhagen Gamble

Holding to the prevailingly brash tenor of the international climate-change debate, the Australian prime minister equated a delay on the enactment of green policy to outright denial of climate change. In doing so, he set himself — and others — up for trouble in Copenhagen in less than a week.

Speaking in Washington yesterday and specifically referencing his country’s own climate-change policy woes, Kevin Rudd said:

Let’s just be very blunt about it. After ten years of delay on climate change, further delay equals denial on climate change. Delay on climate change equals denial on climate change. And it’s time, instead, we voted in support of this bipartisan Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, because to do so votes to act. A failure to vote, or shall I say a vote to delay on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, is a vote to deny the climate change science. A vote to delay this bipartisan Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme is also to deny Australia’s ability to act on climate change.

Rudd is hardly alone in setting dangerously high expectations for concrete and speedy climate-change policy. Across the world, leaders have expressed similar sentiment, and not just on domestic climate-change policy. “We must seal a deal in Copenhagen,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Kyi-Moon. Copenhagen is “capable of delivering the turning point we all want,” said British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. And in a news release issued by the White House itself, John Kerry said that “the fact that the President will attend the Copenhagen talks underscores that the Administration is putting its money where its mouth is, putting the President’s prestige on the line.”

But that’s risky rhetoric, and it puts proponents of stricter global-climate-change policy at a disadvantage.

First, an urgent and for-us-or-against-us approach like Rudd’s automatically alienates those who approach the climate-change debate with healthy skepticism or hesitancy. But it’s also hard to believe any international climate-change agreements can be reached without the help of moderates. And given the recent accounts that the scientific and academic community has suppressed climate-change debate and fogged up evidence, the demonization of skeptics should be hardly the message believers like Rudd want to convey. Further, as India and China have made abundantly clear, climate-change policy is also economic policy. This is not the time for a rushed decision, especially given the global recession.

Second, Rudd has opened the door for a public-relations problem for himself and others at Copenhagen. If anything short of action is evidence of denial, then anything less than total victory in Copenhagen must betray enormous international doubt that a climate-change problem actually exists.

Staked reputations should be the last consideration on the agenda in Copenhagen. But climate-change advocates have needlessly put themselves in a prickly position. There’s no longer much room for such outspoken leaders to hedge against the considerable conflicts they will doubtless face. And with such lofty expectations already established, they’d be foolish not to realize that the political, if not the environmental, clock is ticking. Now they have ensured that time is of the essence.

Holding to the prevailingly brash tenor of the international climate-change debate, the Australian prime minister equated a delay on the enactment of green policy to outright denial of climate change. In doing so, he set himself — and others — up for trouble in Copenhagen in less than a week.

Speaking in Washington yesterday and specifically referencing his country’s own climate-change policy woes, Kevin Rudd said:

Let’s just be very blunt about it. After ten years of delay on climate change, further delay equals denial on climate change. Delay on climate change equals denial on climate change. And it’s time, instead, we voted in support of this bipartisan Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, because to do so votes to act. A failure to vote, or shall I say a vote to delay on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, is a vote to deny the climate change science. A vote to delay this bipartisan Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme is also to deny Australia’s ability to act on climate change.

Rudd is hardly alone in setting dangerously high expectations for concrete and speedy climate-change policy. Across the world, leaders have expressed similar sentiment, and not just on domestic climate-change policy. “We must seal a deal in Copenhagen,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Kyi-Moon. Copenhagen is “capable of delivering the turning point we all want,” said British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. And in a news release issued by the White House itself, John Kerry said that “the fact that the President will attend the Copenhagen talks underscores that the Administration is putting its money where its mouth is, putting the President’s prestige on the line.”

But that’s risky rhetoric, and it puts proponents of stricter global-climate-change policy at a disadvantage.

First, an urgent and for-us-or-against-us approach like Rudd’s automatically alienates those who approach the climate-change debate with healthy skepticism or hesitancy. But it’s also hard to believe any international climate-change agreements can be reached without the help of moderates. And given the recent accounts that the scientific and academic community has suppressed climate-change debate and fogged up evidence, the demonization of skeptics should be hardly the message believers like Rudd want to convey. Further, as India and China have made abundantly clear, climate-change policy is also economic policy. This is not the time for a rushed decision, especially given the global recession.

Second, Rudd has opened the door for a public-relations problem for himself and others at Copenhagen. If anything short of action is evidence of denial, then anything less than total victory in Copenhagen must betray enormous international doubt that a climate-change problem actually exists.

Staked reputations should be the last consideration on the agenda in Copenhagen. But climate-change advocates have needlessly put themselves in a prickly position. There’s no longer much room for such outspoken leaders to hedge against the considerable conflicts they will doubtless face. And with such lofty expectations already established, they’d be foolish not to realize that the political, if not the environmental, clock is ticking. Now they have ensured that time is of the essence.

Read Less




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