There are two stories for what happened when British PM Gordon Brown visited with Obama. One comes from the White House. The other comes from the British press. In the White House version, Brown was greeted as, to put it in Obama’s own words, “one of our closest, strongest allies.” The two leaders met in the Oval Office with the press, just as Obama had met in the Oval Office with the political leader of Japan, as had always been planned. They answered questions together. Brown addressed a joint session of Congress, to rousing ovations, and then Obama called and congratulated Brown on his speech and thanked him for his “very productive visit.”
The British media version has basically nothing to do with the White House version. It begins with a mythical joint press conference that was scheduled for the Rose Garden in the dead of winter, which in itself would have brought new meaning to the term “breaking the ice.” The version continues with the White House canceling this frozen summit, “with flags,” as an intentional snub to show that Obama “dislikes” Britain, or something like that. The story also features a deep and dark reading of the fact that Obama decided not to keep President Bush’s bust of Winston Churchill in the Oval Office. It ends with complaints about the gifts that America’s first couple gave to Brown and his wife. That’s right. The gifts were not good enough, says Iain Martin of the London Daily Telegraph:
A box of 25 DVDS including ET, the Wizard of Oz and Star Wars? Oh, give me strength. We do have television and DVD stores on this side of the Atlantic. Even Gordon Brown will have seen those films too often already. This was coupled with Michelle Obama’s casual choice of gifts for the Brown sons – matching models of the helicopter which ferry her husband around. While Sarah Brown had spent time choosing gifts for the Obama girls, Michelle had clearly sent an aide to the White House gift shop at the last moment.
By contrast, Brown gave Obama “a pen holder carved from the timbers of the HMS Gannet, which was a sister ship of the HMS Resolute, and first edition biography of Winston Churchill.” The pen set has been placed on the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office and the book is in the president’s personal study adjoining the Oval Office. But of course, if the British media is to be believed, there is little good that can be read into these facts. I can see the column now: Why didn’t Obama put the pen in his pocket? Does he have no plans to read about Churchill? It’s all exhausting, really.
But as Martin continues, it gets worse. Obama, in another apparent sign of his distaste for Britain, is heading to England next month on his first overseas trip. (The nerve!) To add to this insult, he plans to meet with the Queen, at her invitation, for tea. Could this be a possible sign that the entire Obama-snubs-England story is a myth? No, sir. It only confirms what the British press already knew before Brown met Obama. “He might not like the Brits, but he can recognise a global superstar when he encounters one. He wants to be associated with her. He’s shameless,” Martin concludes. Exhausting, I tell you. Exhausting.
UPDATE: Speaking of diplomacy lost in translation, Hillary Clinton just handed Russia an “overcharge” button, not a “reset” button. Oof.