Washington rolled out the red carpet for David Cameron this week. President Obama feted the British Prime Minister with a 19-gun salute, a White House banquet, a joint press conference in the Rose Garden and a trip to Ohio on Air Force One for an NCAA March madness basketball game (at which Cameron looked mostly confused as Obama explained the rules).
The visit, in contrast to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s tense reception last week, has been marked by the casual air between two men– “Barack” and “David,” they call each other–who seem to genuinely get along. In fact, the trip has been so drama-free, it’s hardly made news in the U.S. ESPN reported that Obama attended the basketball game, but declined to mention Cameron’s presence. And most U.S. papers met everything from Obama and Cameron’s joint op-ed and their statements of unity on NATO and the economy to their jokes and banter with a shrug. Cameron’s visit did not make the front page of any major U.S. paper, nor even Roll Call, Politico or The Hill. And the only real news made from the press conference was that despite several weeks of missteps in Afghanistan, both leaders remained committed to the current withdrawal timeline. In other words: The news was that there’s no news.
That said, Cameron’s visit has made great television fodder, from Tuesday’s basketball game to Wednesday’s White House pomp. And, really, that’s what both sides want out of this trip: a great photo to take home. For Obama, bringing the conservative British prime minister to Ohio – a swing state – flaunts his foreign policy credentials and underlines how he’s improved America’s image abroad. It’s notable that Cameron didn’t meet with any of the Republican candidates while here (though, where would he draw the line? Just meeting with Mitt Romney might show favoritism and a photo of Cameron and Rick Santorum together would only get Cameron in more trouble with British women at home), making it almost seem like Cameron was endorsing Obama for a second term.
From the British perspective, Obama remains more popular in the U.K. than in the U.S. and a dose of Obama love can only bolster Cameron.
The love was palpable in Obama’s remarks at the arrival ceremony:
It’s now been 200 years since the British came here, to the White House — under somewhat different circumstances. (Laughter.) They made quite an impression. (Laughter.) They really lit up the place. (Laughter.) But we moved on. (Laughter.) And today, like so many Presidents and Prime Ministers before us, we meet to reaffirm one of the greatest alliances the world has ever known.
This visit is also an opportunity to reciprocate the extraordinary and gracious hospitality shown to us by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, by David and Samantha, and by the British people during our visit to London last year. And we are proud that this visit comes as Her Majesty begins her Diamond Jubilee, celebrating 60 extraordinary years on the British throne. (Applause.)
It is remarkable to consider: Down the decades we’ve seen nations rise and fall; wars fought and peace defended; a city divided, a wall come down; countries imprisoned behind an Iron Curtain, then liberated. We’ve seen the demise of a Cold War and the rise of new threats; the transition from an Industrial Revolution to an Information Age where new technologies empower our citizens and our adversaries like never before. Our world has been transformed over and over, and it will be again. Yet, through the grand sweep of history, through all its twists and turns, there is one constant — the rock-solid alliance between the United States and the United Kingdom. (Applause.)
And the reason is simple. We stand together and we work together and we bleed together and we build together, in good times and in bad, because when we do, our nations are more secure, our people are more prosperous, and the world is a safer and better and more just place. Our alliance is essential — it is indispensable — to the security and prosperity that we seek not only for our own citizens, but for people around the world.
And that is why, as President, I’ve made strengthening this alliance and our alliances around the world one of my highest foreign policy priorities. And because we have, I can stand here today and say with pride and with confidence — and I believe with David’s agreement — that the relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom is the strongest that it has ever been. (Applause.)