Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Obamas and Britain

I'm coming to this a bit late.

When British Prime Minister Gordon Brown recently visited Washington, he was treated with less than the full formal welcome that he expected. He brought several gifts of some historical significance and thoughtfulness; in return President Obama gave him a set of widely-available DVDs, which turn out to be in a format that is not playable in Europe. Mrs. Brown gave the Obama girls some clothes that were chosen carefully to please them; Mrs. Obama gave the Brown boys some scale models of the Marine One helicopter used by the President.

The Obamas may actually have issues with the Brits. One of Brown's gifts was a seven-volume biography of Winston Churchill. Shortly before Brown's visit, Obama had actually taken the trouble to return to the Brits a famous bust of Churchill that had been in the Oval Office since 9/11.

It has been suggested that one of the Obamas, or both of them, associate Britain with the introduction of slavery to what is now the United States. Some Brits and their defenders are indignantly pointing out that Britain abolished slavery before the U.S. did (events that Brown's gifts are associated with), etc.

If this is in fact the view held by the Obamas, it is at least consistent with Thomas Jefferson's rough draft of the Declaration of Independence:

Although the issue of slavery was widely debated -- both the chattel slavery of Africans in America and the civil slavery that fired patriot rhetoric -- it is conspicuously absent from the final version of the Declaration. Yet in his rough draft, Jefferson railed against King George III for creating and sustaining the slave trade, describing it as "a cruel war against human nature."


Then there is Ireland. After the perceived snubs to Brown, the Obamas treated Brian Cowen, Prime Minister of Ireland, as if he were indeed a king--and a king of a very important world power. I can't help recalling the history of Americans supporting the IRA--a terrorist group by any reasonable definition. And then more recently IEDs are used in Iraq, and at least some of them are traced back to the IRA--perhaps paid for by U.S. citizens. Let's just say it's a funny world.

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