The Brits were thrilled that President Obama swept Prime Minister David Cameron off his feet in his official state visit this week, but now they're feeling a bit used. The British press was in awe that Cameron got to ride on Air Force One -- the first foreign official to do so. But now there's worry that Obama got even more out of it than Cameron did. The British are going through stages of dating grief: elation, feelings of inadequacy, feeling used.
The official visit offered Obama a fantastic opportunity to be photographed looking dignified and presidential while the Republicans competing to take his job talk about bombing Iran and throwing up at the thought of John F. Kennedy. That's not to say the visit was without substance. The two discussed releasing emergency oil reserves to lower gas prices, Reuters reports (no agreement was reached.) Cameron told New York University students that British gas prices "would probably make you faint." They reaffirmed the two countries' commitment to the timetable of handing over security responsibility to Afghans by 2014. Obama assured Cameron that the U.S. backs British rule over the Falkland Islands. They discussed an extradition treaty. But for the most part, it was a lovely show -- a chance for both men to look like world leaders amid middling popularity.
Cameron was greeted Tuesday with a real red carpet. The International Herald Tribune's Harvey Morris writes that earlier this week, "British officials were ecstatic that Mr. Cameron hitched an unprecedented ride aboard Air Force One (even France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, did not receive that honor, they boasted.)." The press agreed: "Obama pushed protocol to the limits to give the prime minister the biggest welcome accorded any world leader this year," the Guardian said. "The warmth of the presidential welcome was striking," the Financial Times reported.
Then Obama treated Cameron to a bit of American culture -- March Madness. The duo ate hot dogs in the swing state of Ohio. Cameron even ate his with ketchup.
Then there was a joint press conference in the Rose Garden Wednesday, followed by a state dinner. The two men gave highly complementary speeches. "Barack Obama pays gushing tribute to special relationship," the Guardian declared.
But it was here, with the state dinner, that the British began to suffer feelings of inadequacy. The entertainment was the British band Mumford & Sons. This marked a moment of "national embarrassment," The Telegraph's Ian Martin writes. "Where once we sent the Americans the Beatles, the Stones, the Who and David Bowie, now we can only extend to Mumford & Sons. The noodling, whiny, public-schoolboy folkists were the entertainment during the state dinner... Imagine the bemusement of senior members of the White House team forced to watch Mumford & Sons play."
For the Telegraph's Tim Stanley, the cringe moment was Cameron's speech. "In a speech that can only be described as creepy, David Cameron appeared to endorse Barack Obama’s re-election on Wednesday night. Standing in front of a grand piano covered in candles (some of us were half expecting the Prime Minister to break into a chorus of 'Stay' by Shakespeare’s Sister), he compared the President to Theodore Roosevelt…" Why, Stanley asks, "is Cameron alienating himself from the American Right? This trip he has failed to meet with any of the Republican leaders and studiously avoided mentioning conservative heroes in his speech."
On Thursday, the duo split, and Cameron visited the September 11 memorial in New York City. Unsettling self-reflection ensued. The Herald Tribune's Morris writes the visit was "a happy stroke of timing," so Cameron "got to serve as a stage prop in the president’s re-election campaign." Others worried Cameron lent credibility to things the U.K. doesn't particularly agree with. "The political elite was in ecstasy this week because of the 'lavish' hospitality laid on for David Cameron by US President Barack Obama," the Liverpool Daily Post writes. "OK, so the plane ride was in Air Force One, which is better than Mr Cameron is used to… All the same, one has to wonder whether Britain’s blood-soaked decade of blind loyalty to the USA’s demented foreign policy is really worth a fancy plane ride for our Prime Minister. Even if they do let him keep the slippers and eye mask."
The Telegraph's Stanley is annoyed by a more immediate benefit Obama got from Cameron's visit: cash money.The U.K. was "reduced to being a prop in a re-election campaign," he writes. A large number of the state dinner guests were big bundlers for Obama's reelection campaign. "[M]ake no mistake about it, Obama has used Cameron’s visit to line his campaign’s pockets. In total, 41 of the 364 guests last night were Obama donors who give the legal maximum in contributions. Together, they have been responsible for at least $10.7 million of the roughly $250 million Obama and Democrats have raised for 2012 thus far."
The Brits have not quite gone through the last phase of dating Mr. Wrong: No regrets. At some point they've got to throw their head back and say, "It was crazy, but I'm glad it happened." But there are hints they're on their way there, with the Telegraph wondering if the visit strengthened Cameron's position among British conservatives, and the Herald Tribune writing that a strong friendship would be beneficial if both men are reelected.