Mr Cameron has gone to Washington. Have any of you noticed? David Cameron is the new British Prime Minister, and today he is meeting with President Obama in the White House. And while I expect that there has been little media coverage given to the meeting in the United States, it is wall to wall here.
Here is what the two leaders will talk about we have been briefed; Afghanistan, BP and the still controversial Libyan hijacker release. Doubtless there will be other issues covered as well, but here at least and despite the ritualistic nonsense talked about a “special relationship”, the British Prime Minister has very sensibly argued that relations between America and Britain should be based on realism, which for observers of the Trans Atlantic political scene, is a sure sign that Cameron has read the runes well this side of the pond.
Brits like Americans by and large, although they seem to think the Americans think about them an awful lot more than they actually do. Brits particularly like American music, American film, the big hearted generosity of ordinary Americans, American cars, when they used to be big and American and much else besides. But on the whole they do not approve of their Prime Ministers’ forming too close relationships with American Presidents, but this is largely a new development based on Margaret Thatcher’s kinship with Ronald Reagan, and more alarmingly Tony Blair’s support for George Bush’s ruinous wars.
So Cameron has probably got the tone about right. But what about the substance? Over Afghanistan, Britain sent in her army in support of an American foreign policy objective, one that subsequently became a British policy objective too. Loosely it may be summed up as a necessary action designed to stabilise Afghanistan and protect the homeland against terrorism. Except that Afghanistan, nine years after those soldiers were despatched, is not much more stable, and as any fool doth know, the Taliban are not comparable to Al-Qaida and do not pose a terrorist threat to the West. You have to look to the Pakistan, Yemen and Somali badlands for that existential threat. Cameron will have to intimate that the British cannot afford to be in Afghanistan much longer – not only can we literally not afford it, overwhelmingly British public opinion calls for a return home.
Now BP and Libya are of course linked – not least in the mind of the Senators who wish to quiz the British Prime Minister today over BP’s alleged lobbying for the release of the alleged Libyan hijacker of the PanAm flight that was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland. As it happens I interviewed Megrahi in Tripoli, Libya nearly fifteen years ago before he was extradited for trial. In common with others at the time I was never entirely persuaded that Megrahi was one of the ringleaders, but be that as it may, his controversial release from a Scottish Jail didn’t happen on David Cameron’s watch – it happened under that of the previous Government.
I don’t blame the Senators for having it in for BP, but the trouble is they risk missing the real target. BP will not have acted alone in lobbying for Megrahi’s release, although clearly it was in the company’s economic interest to do so. They are more likely to have been acting in concert with a British Government that was anxious to open Libya up for business and to relax sanctions. And one of those keenest to improve relations and open Libya up for business was our own multi-millionaire ex PM, Tony Blair.
He is the person the Senators need to be talking to, and if David Cameron has any sense he will advise them accordingly.