How will D.C. be received in DC?

With the new British government now having issued its much vaunted Emergency Budget, eyes will no doubt start to turn towards the Prime Minister’s imminent visit to Washington to meet President Obama. The first visit by the PM to the White House is always an important event and this will prove to be no exception.

The meeting comes at a delicate time for UK/US relations. With troops serving together in Afghanistan the room for disagreement is slender, yet focus will no doubt be concentrated upon any potential rift caused by the BP oil disaster.

The media will no doubt be looking for any sign of division caused by the events in the Gulf of Mexico, the may even go so far as to stress division where none exists. What they will miss, no doubt, is the change in fortune that the Conservatives are experiencing in Washington and the implications that this may have for the Special Relationship.

It is standard diplomatic practice for the American president to grant an audience to the Leader of the Opposition. Even Ronald Reagan extended this courtesy to Neil Kinnock despite his obvious (and stated) support for Prime Minister Thatcher. Recent events have been somewhat more problematic, however. William Hague met George W. Bush in Crawford, Texas, prior to the election of 2000, but one wonders if the Texan governor thought that perhaps he was due to see former Secretary of State Al Hague?

In the years that followed the debacle of 2000 the leaders of Her Majesties’ loyal opposition were effectively given the cold shoulder in DC, so close was Bush to Blair. Michael Howard was considered persona non grata in Washington following his calls for Blair’s resignation and Ian Duncan Smith failed to make an impression in his 2002 visit.

Of course it is also true that the Conservatives have sought to gain access whilst still maintaining a low profile. David Cameron met Bush at the White House in a meeting in 2007, but images are hard to come by. Clearly there was a desire to be received in official Washington, but less of a desire to distribute images of Cameron with an unpopular president. Cameron’s visit in 2007 followed a 5 year absence from Washington for a leader of the Conservative Party, the longest since the advent of the jet engine.

When Prime Minster David Cameron returns to DC he will do so in a very different capacity and with a very different occupant of the White House. Barack Obama was the first foreign leader to congratulate Cameron upon becoming PM and the Foreign Secretary’s first overseas foray was to Washington and a meeting with Hillary Clinton.  This meeting was important as it presented the opportunity to reset official relations between London and Washington that has been waning for several years.

When Gorden Brown became PM he was eager not to become tainted by his relationship with George W. Bush, whose time in the White House was drawing to a close. Accordingly, Brown set a very different tone for the Special Relationship than had Tony Blair. However, it would appear that President Obama adopted a similar stance to Gordon Brown, not wishing to be seen as being to close to an unpopular British PM who was rightly expected to lose office at the earliest possible occasion.

With the departure of Brown and Bush and the emergence of Obama and Cameron, therefore, the slate has effectively been wiped clean, allowing for a new era in Transatlantic ties. Having met previously on Senator Obama’s trip to London in 2008, the PM will be eager to forge a new working relationship that is businesslike and balanced, avoiding the pitfalls that Blair fell into time and again for pandering to the White House with little or no derived benefit.

The Special Relationship is about far more than the chemistry between the two leaders, but when so much attention is focused upon their dealings, it has a disproportionate impact upon all other elements; politically, culturally and militarily. With this trip, the PM will be well placed to begin a new and positive era in US-UK relations and to put to rest overblown tales of Obama rejecting a bust of Churchill (which had only been lent to the Bush White House as W. was a known admirer) and of DVD gift sets. The past can be overcome. How the BP situation is dealt with, may well be another question…

What Would ‘W’ Do?

So here we are now, several weeks on and the BP situation is going from bad to worse. What started out as an environmental disaster is heading for something far worse. At risk now is the future of an organisation employing thousands of people around the world (including the United States) the pension funds of untold individuals whose portfolio managers have invested in the blue chip company, the immediate future of the Special Relationship and an American presidency.

Of these, the latter is worth pondering in some detail.

Some eighteen months ago, Barack Hussein Obama came to power in a barrage of good will and even better press. Gone it appeared, were the dark days of W and knee-jerk reactions to events and people. Here, it was believed, was an intelligent and thoughtful individual who would articulate wisely the thoughts and beliefs of a nation to a wider world in such a way as to reinvigorate the United States on the world stage.

Yet in this escapade, one finds the new boss, much like the old boss. With attacks coming from all sides, Obama appears to be asking only one salient question, “What would W do?”

His answer, alas, appears to be to find an easily identified foreign enemy and blast away in an effort to divert attention from American failings. In this he has been aided by a flawed response from BP that has done little if anything to help the situation. Content to put short-term domestic political considerations ahead of long-term international relationships, Obama is falling into a well laid trap that has now seen him equate the incident in the Gulf to 9/11.

All of which will be red meat to the Republicans, who can now say either that Obama is exploiting both tragedies to aid his political ends, or that in so doing, Obama reveals an ignorance of the impact that 9/11 had on the American people. And in both claims they would be absolutely correct. Keep an eye on this and see how it plays out. My guess is that you are going to be hearing this quote over and over again in attack ads in the fall. It is a major mis-calculation by the president and it could well be his undoing in the fall elections.

Obama’s willingness to say and do anything to divert attention away from any debate to do with oversight of the oil business, any discussion concerning the ownership of the platform and the casual ease with which he suggests that private individuals should be fired, is woeful behaviour that would be slammed if it were muttered by any Republican president. It would appear that Obama is still benefiting from a media-love-in that carried this untried, unqualified Senator to  the White House.

The effort to prove that this is not Obama’s Katrina is backfiring in ways that could never have been imagined. During Katrina, it simply appeared that Bush could care less about certain elements within American society and that the federal government was inept when it came to dealing with a natural disaster.

Now it appears that Obama could care less about relations with America’s oldest ally, and that the federal government continues to be inept at regulating the oil industry or at responding to environmental disasters. As each day passes, Obama is looking less and less like the great hope, and more and more like a previous Democratic president who came to know the impact that an oil crisis could have on a presidency and paid a heavy price: Jimmy Carter. Unless he is able to find the voice and the direction that propelled him to victory in 2008, Obama risks repeating Carter’s abbreviated occupation of the Oval Office.

Blood and Oil in the Water

Make no mistake, the crisis in the Gulf of Mexico is a serious one for all concerned; for the local fishing industry, for the wildlife, for residents and for those who make a living from the local region. For two groups, however, there is far more at stake: The White House and British Petroleum. For both, this has become a poker game with the highest possible stakes, an all or nothing scenario with everything to lose and only equilibrium to retain. In a situation that has come to dominate the airwaves in the United States, both parties are under fire, with political opponents seeking the opportunity to add blood to the already polluted waters.

This is about far more than pollution and environmentalism. At the heart of the story are two organisations that simply cannot be seen to lose. It is, and will continue to be, a tale of spin control. In one corner stands British Petroleum, the mighty organisation that generates vast fortunes of revenue year in and year out. In the other corner is the White House, occupied by everyone’s favourite Nobel laureate, President Obama. Under fire from political opponents for doing seemingly little about the disaster, the president has now made three trips to Louisiana in the past six weeks, in an effort to be seen to be doing something. This has involved holding meetings with local officials and taking photo-opportunity trips to beaches, staring out at the ocean and sifting through the polluted sands.

What does this achieve, one may ask? Well it presents the impression of pro-activity if nothing else. Alas, presidential visits do not simply occur, they are vast exercises in organisation and security. Marine One does not simply deposit POTUS on a beach and then deliver him safely back to the White House. The very business of placing Obama on a beach in Louisiana requires a security detail and planning that will have vastly impacted the ability of those involved in conducting the clean up from simply getting on and doing their job. Instead of working, they will be required to adhere to security restrictions put in place to accommodate Obama’s visit. Instead of getting on with the clean up, they will be required to meet with Obama, whilst the president looks stern and resolute for the evening news.

Which is to say that the situation is now simply a political football. The White House is clearly concerned that this will become seen as Obama’s Katrina, and the way to avoid this is to lay the blame squarely on BP. Thus far, BP’s response has been to attempt to plug the leak in oil, if not in its reputation. Once the oil flow has been stemmed it may be in a better position to explain the complex ownership issues that exist in the oil industry and how it came to be drilling at that time and place and the role of Halliburton in the whole process. Until then, the White House will continue to portray this as an example of greedy (and foreign) investors ruining the American environment. Such a lament is inappropriate, of course, as the American coast is ringed with drilling platforms, merrily pumping away, be it at oil or gas reserves. When Piper Alpha exploded off the British coast, no one was arguing that it was an American disaster and pointing the finger across the Atlantic.

The deregulation that has  contributed to this crisis is not unlike that which accompanied the financial market, and neither is the result. When times are good, deregulation has a thousand fathers. Now it is an orphan. BP and the Obama Administration now face the Poor House. There is only room for one and both will fight to avoid this most ignoble of ends.

Gored by the Supremes

So after 40 years together the Gores are to separate…. This is intriguing. Whatever one makes of the couple, to divorce at this stage in life appears to be somewhat unusual, especially if there are no other parties involved. One wonders if the Gore marriage is the final (hopefully) victim of the decision by the Supreme Court to hand the presidency to George W. Bush in 2000. Had that not occurred, one doubts that this decision would have been announced today. Had that not occurred, Gore would have presided over at least four, if not eight, of the past ten years and have been a worthy occupant of the Oval Office…an Oval Office that he had discussed installing a web-cam in to allow Americans to see what was going on there in the aftermath of Bill Clinton’s shenanigans, only for his wife to suggest that it may have to be turned off from time to time…. So with a response like that one wonders where everything has suddenly gone so very wrong?

The saltines of this remark spoke to the warmth of the relationship, captured perfectly (if not a little too vividly) in the embrace and kiss that she received from her husband at the 2000 Democratic National Convention.

Of course many leading politicians lead lives that would appear to be somewhat removed from reality and the former VP is a prime example of this. The former “next President of the United States,” has traveled the world presenting his Inconvenient Truth documentary, picking up an Oscar and a Nobel Prize along the way. Alas it seems to have cost him his marriage.

How odd that this once golden couple of Washington politics should part like this. The double irony is that for much of his vice-presidency, it was the marriage of his boss that came under most scrutiny, with many speculating that Hillary would leave Bill Clinton once they left the White House.

Such speculation of course, ignored the fact that they are stronger together and arguably need and understand one another more than most would give credit for.  With her career having now moved to the State Department, Hilary clearly has a path to follow, something that Tipper appears to have lost.

Her early advocacy of mental health issues had its origins in her own bouts of depression, though many are unaware that this fun-loving and at times irascible women was also the driving force behind the Parental Advisory labels that now adorn music products like a badge of honour.  Yep, no Republican twin-set and pearls at work, but a Democrat stay at home mum, appalled at the idea of her teenage daughter listening to Prince’s ‘Darling Nikki’ from Purple Rain. Check out the lyrics, they are worth it for they provide insight into the mindset of the individuals involved and the spirit of the mid-late ’80s.

So as the Gore marriage disappears over the horizon, one can only speculate as to what comes next. One can hardly image the multimillionaire Oscar winner staying home polishing his awards and lamenting his receding hairline. Time surely to bury the hatchet with his old boss and dig out Clinton’s Little Black Book. After all, Gore still has the best pick up line going; “You can call me, Al…..”