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Slapping friends

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Charles Krauthammer
April 2, 2010
— What is it like to be a foreign ally of Barack Obama’s America?
If you’re a Brit, your head is spinning. It’s not just the personal slights to Prime Minister Gordon Brown—the ridiculous 25-DVD gift, the five refusals before Brown was granted a one-on-one with The One.

Nor is it just the symbolism of Obama returning the Churchill bust that was in the Oval Office. Query: If it absolutely had to be out of Obama’s sight, could it not have been housed somewhere else on U.S. soil rather than ostentatiously repatriated?


Perhaps it was the State Department official who last year denied there even was a special relationship between the U.S. and Britain, a relationship cultivated by every U.S. president since Franklin Roosevelt.


And then there was Hillary Clinton’s astonishing, nearly unreported (in the U.S.) performance in Argentina last month. She called for Britain to negotiate with Argentina over the Falklands.


For those who know no history—or who believe that it began Jan. 20, 2009—and therefore don’t know why this was an out-of-the-blue slap at Britain, here’s the back-story:


In 1982, Argentina’s military junta invaded the (British) Falkland Islands. The generals thought the British, having long lost their taste for foreign lands, would let it pass. Besides, the Falklands have uncountably more sheep than people. They underestimated Margaret Thatcher (the Argentines, that is, not the sheep). She was not about to permit the conquest of a people whose political allegiance and ethnic ties are to Britain. She dispatched the navy. Britannia took it back.


Afterward, neither Thatcher nor her successors have countenanced negotiations. Britain doesn’t covet foreign dominion and has no shortage of sheep. But it does believe in self-determination and will negotiate nothing until and unless the Falkland Islanders indicate their desire to be ruled by a chronically unstable, endemically corrupt polity with a rich history of dictatorship, economic mismanagement and the occasional political lunacy (see: the Evita cult).


Not surprisingly, the Falkland Islanders have given no such indication. Yet inexplicably, Clinton sought to reopen a question that had been settled for almost 30 years, not just pointlessly stirring the embers but even taking the Argentine side (re: negotiations) against Britain—a nation that has fought and bled with us for the last decade, and that today has about 10,000 troops, far more than any other ally, fighting alongside America in Afghanistan.


Of course, given how the administration has treated other allies, perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised.


—Obama visits China and soon Indonesia, skipping India, our natural and rising ally in the region—common language, common heritage, common democracy, common jihadist enemy. Indeed, in his enthusiasm for China, Obama suggests a Chinese interest in peace and stability in South Asia, a gratuitous denigration of Indian power and legitimacy in favor of a regional rival with hegemonic ambitions.

—Poland and the Czech Republic have their legs cut out from under them when Obama unilaterally revokes a missile defense agreement, acquiescing to pressure from Russia with its dreams of regional hegemony over Eastern Europe.


—The Hondurans still can’t figure out why the United States supported a Hugo Chavez ally seeking illegal extension of his presidency against the pillars of civil society—its Congress, Supreme Court, church and army—that had deposed him consistent with Article 239 of their own constitution.


But the Brits, our most venerable, most reliable ally, are the most disoriented.


“We British not only speak the same language. We tend to think in the same way. We are more likely than anyone else to provide tea, sympathy and troops,” writes Bruce Anderson in London’s Independent, summarizing with admirable concision the fundamental basis of the U.S.-British special relationship.


Well, said David Manning, a former British ambassador to the U.S., to a House of Commons committee reporting on that very relationship: “He (Obama) is an American who grew up in Hawaii, whose foreign experience was of Indonesia and who had a Kenyan father. The sentimental reflexes, if you like, are not there.”


I’m not personally inclined to neuropsychiatric diagnoses, but Manning’s guess is as good as anyone’s. How can you explain a policy toward Britain that makes no strategic or moral sense? And even if you can, how do you explain the gratuitous slaps to the Czechs, Poles, Indians and others?

Perhaps when an Obama Doctrine is finally worked out, we shall learn whether it was pique, principle or mere carelessness.


Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for the Washington Post. His e-mail address is letters@charleskrauthammer.com.

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