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Gov. Mitt Romney finishes up his overseas trip to Britain, Israel and Poland this week. The trip began inauspiciously, due to what some called Romney’s “gaffe” about the London Olympic Games. “There are a few things that were disconcerting,” said Romney, who organized the Salt Lake Games in 2002, when asked about London’s preparations. That rather bland remark—which turned out to be at least partly accurate, as ticket and transportation problems have plagued the Games—became the narrative for most major media outlets. But if anyone cares to know what a gaffe really looks and sounds like, consider President Barack Obama’s treatment of the very allies Romney visited.
It pays to recall that Obama began his presidency with a series of major gaffes and outright insults to America’s closest ally.
With little fanfare—in fact, it was kept quiet for many weeks—Obama discreetly returned a bust of Winston Churchill to the British government soon after his inauguration. During his predecessor’s administration, the statue rested in an honored place near the president’s desk—an unmistakable symbol of the special relationship between these two great, liberal democracies. When the Obama administration dismissed reports that Sir Winston’s likeness had been tossed out like so much remodeling debris—employing its trademark self-righteous rhetoric by calling those reports “100 percent false”—it was discovered that the denials were false. As the British Embassy in Washington reported, the bust was loaned to the White House “in the wake of 9/11 as a signal of the strong transatlantic relationship…The new president has decided not to continue this loan and the bust has now been returned. It is on display at the ambassador’s residence.”
Obama White House officials vainly explained that they were talking about a different Churchill bust—one was given in the 1960s, another after 9/11—but the damage was already done. “Barack Obama Sends Bust of Winston Churchill on its Way Back to Britain,” blasted a London Telegraph headline from February 2009.
Sadly, that would be the first of many slights and gaffes Obama directed Britain’s way. In a terrible breach of protocol, Obama met with Tony Blair, the former prime minister of Britain, before meeting with then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Worse, Obama cut short a meeting with Brown to visit with the Boy Scouts. British media described Brown as humiliated by the snub. Even worse, when the two leaders met and engaged in the customary exchange of gifts, Obama gave Brown 25 DVD movies. “The Prime Minister gave Mr. Obama an ornamental pen holder made from the timbers of the Victorian anti-slave ship HMS Gannet…a framed commission for HMS Resolute and a first edition of the seven-volume biography of Churchill by Sir Martin Gilbert,” the Daily Mail reported. (“Rudeness personified towards Britain,” howled The Daily Telegraph.) And worst of all, the Obama administration offloaded a handful of GITMO detainees onto the British colony of Bermuda—without consulting Britain. “This is not the kind of behavior one expects from an ally,” a British official declared.
Indeed, in areas of shared interest, like NATO military operations, Obama deeply disappointed Britain. Early on in Libya, the White House talked about a “time-limited, scope-limited” mission. In fact, the U.S. was so eager to step back from the lead role it played in the first week of Libya operations that Britain and France had to request assistance from U.S. aircraft before they could be deployed on strike missions. William Hague, Britain’s foreign minister, urged allied nations to “expand” their efforts, pointedly adding, “That is why the United Kingdom in the last weeks supplied additional aircraft capable of striking ground targets that threaten the civilian population. Of course, it would be welcome if other countries did the same.” Hague was politely directing his message at Washington. The U.S. accounted for 90 of the 206 NATO planes initially deployed in support of Unified Protector, and an even higher percentage of the planes capable of carrying out precision ground-attack missions. However, the U.S. contribution plummeted to a tiny handful of planes after the first two weeks. As a result, Britain and France were left straining to play a lead role in NATO—a role they are simply not equipped to play.
Poland, too, knows how it feels to get the Obama treatment.
Obama pulled the rug out from under Poland (and the Czech Republic) in order to ink a bad arms control treaty with Russia. Worried about Iran’s nukes and missiles, Europe had agreed to a NATO-wide missile defense system during the Bush administration. It was a courageous decision on Poland’s part (Warsaw was exposing itself to Russian ire by agreeing to allow permanent U.S. missile-defense bases on its soil) and an impressive diplomatic feat on the Bush administration’s part (most of NATO had taken an agnostic stand on missile defense for decades).
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