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24/07/2010 | Why Obama Can Only Dream About Being David Cameron

Stephan Richter

The first visit of Britain's new prime minister to the United States was carefully timed. It was meant to occur only after the second-biggest disaster in U.S.-British relations in history — the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico — was at least somewhat contained. Under those circumstances, it must come as quite a shock to many Americans that President Obama can only dream of being in David Cameron's shoes.

 

Careful stage management has always been a key consideration in the high-stakes politics between nations, even long before the 24-hour cable news cycle.

And so it was not astounding that Britain's new prime minister, who took office in May 2010, is only now making his way to Washington, to pay an initial visit to his U.S. counterpart in the White House.

The reason for this uncharacteristic delay in making the journey from London is clear enough. BP's management of its communications in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon incident had been disastrous — and caused a rift in the usually close-knit relations of the United States and the UK.

Mr. Cameron, a former PR man, was not about to repeat the experience by visiting Washington amidst the very public disgust with the carelessness of the former British Petroleum. He was waiting for an opportune moment, such as when BP had managed to stop the flow from the oil well in the Gulf.

And while the news about BP’s engineering feat seemed to have been good, there are now doubts as to whether the firm really succeeded in its mission to stop the flow of crude.

The U.S. Coast Guard's Thad Allen, a no-nonsense/no drama kind of guy, is concerned that there are anomalies at the wellhead and that the oil may simply be escaping elsewhere.

If that concern of the Coast Guard Admiral were to manifest itself as reality, that would of course be disastrous for the people in the Gulf region.

In addition, BP's recent pronouncements could take on the eerie air of the “mission accomplished” claims of President George W. Bush in May 2003 in the early stages of the Iraq invasion.

If that were to come to pass, it would further diminish the luster of U.S.-British relations — and tarnish Mr. Cameron's Washington visit. That, too, would be a shame.

Adding further tension to the U.S.-UK relationship is the fact that the U.S. Senate is looking into whether lobbying from BP played a role in Scotland’s release of Libyan Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, whose 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight killed 189 Americans. Critics allege BP was pressing for his release to facilitate an oil deal with Libya.

Given all these dire considerations and potential developments, how on earth is it possible that President Obama has plenty of reason to secretly admire David Cameron, his British counterpart?

The answer lays in the efficiency of the British political system. Just a few months ago, British politics seemed to be mired in the morass of an inconclusive election result.

Gordon Brown, a deeply unpopular prime minister heading the Labor Party (whose main focus for some years had been infighting among the party grandees and wannabe prime ministers), had managed to receive enough votes to prevent the presumed sweep at the polls by Mr. Cameron’s Conservative Party.

Translated into American terms, Brown's accomplishment was almost akin to George W. Bush — with all the experience the voters had with his disastrous move into Iraq and callous disregard for really focusing on Afghanistan — managing to be reelected for a third term in November 2008.

With that in mind, it is miraculous to see where Britain finds itself just a few months into the term of the new government.

The British election campaign had been overshadowed by grave — and justified — concerns over what the financial markets would do to Britain as a result of its rather somber fiscal performance and outlook.

For all the doom-saying before the election, it took the determination of a new Chancellor of the Exchequer to follow through on his pre-election announcement to opt for fiscal consolidation to get back in the market's good graces.

Within weeks of taking over as prime minister and deputy prime minister, David Cameron and the Liberal Democrats' Nick Clegg have managed to enact a comprehensive program of reforms that are well-designed to right Britain's listing ship of state.

While setbacks in market sentiment and British public opinion are inevitable, for Mr. Obama to look across the pond and reflect on his British colleagues' accomplishments can only lead to political daydreaming.

What if...? Yes, what if the U.S. political system were designed as a parliamentary system, as Britain's has been for centuries? Once elected as prime minister of Britain, one can exercise the political equivalent of a temporary dictatorship, for as long as a five-year period before having to face the voters.

That may sound harsh and unwelcome in American ears so accustomed to the ebb-and-flow of the U.S. constitution's checks and balances. And yet, Mr. Obama must be daydreaming.

The fact of the matter is that, just over two months into his term, Mr. Cameron, by relying on the majority granted to him and his coalition in the May 2010 elections, is on track to pass a more substantive legislative agenda than Mr. Obama could ever hope to achieve even after two terms in office — assuming, for a moment, his reelection.

Even if he had another six and a half years, Mr. Obama would not be able to enact as much of his 2008 electoral agenda as Mr. Cameron has been able to do with his in next to no time. That must frustrate any politician deeply.

Worse, it's not just a matter of Republican obstinacy, as some might claim or think. No, almost as often, the Obama Administration's plans are stopped by its own party's members, Democrats in the U.S. Congress.

As a constitutional lawyer and ex officio preserver of American political traditions, Mr. Obama no doubt would display enough of a cool, dispassionate demeanor if he were asked whether he would like to be prime minister for a day.

Inside the man, though, one can only assume how much he would be yearning for such a temporary policy dictatorship, a vestige and privilege of British prime ministers that ensures political efficiency, even if inviting concerns about possible overreaches.

So much for Mr. Obama's real thoughts when he welcomes David Cameron to the Oval Office.

The Globalist (Estados Unidos)

 


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