Finally, a conservative who likes President Obama.
And he’s not just any conservative, mind you. He’s a capital-C Conservative, British Prime Minister David Cameron. On his official visit to Washington, the Briton could not say enough good things about his American host.
On Iran: “The president’s tough, reasonable approach has united the world.”
On Libya: “Mr. President, Barack, about Libya … none of that would have been possible without the overwhelming support and overwhelming force that the United States provided in the early stages of that campaign — exactly what you promised you would do.”
On Afghanistan: “I think the U.S. surge … had a transformative effect.”
On Syria: “Our teams work incredibly closely together on this issue.”
The prime minister even defended Obama’s slow progress on debt reduction: “Actually, if you look at the U.S. plans for reducing the deficit over coming years, in many ways they are actually steeper than what we’re going to be doing.”
All that was missing was for Cameron to cut a campaign ad for Obama — and he just about did that, too. Cameron accompanied Obama to an NCAA basketball tournament game Tuesday night that just happened to be in the swing state of Ohio, and it produced some impossibly good press for Obama.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair famously became former President George W. Bush’s “poodle” when he followed the United States into Iraq. Now it’s the opposite relationship — an American politician from the left and a British prime minister from the right — but a similar dynamic is developing. This time, Cameron seems to be serving as Obama’s guard dog, defending his American master against the Mitt Romneys and the Rick Santora.
Obama must have recognized the value in having a foreign leader as a campaign-year prop, because his incessant sports chatter was perhaps the most forced attempt at presidential bonhomie since Bush announced at Camp David that he and Blair use the same toothpaste.
“I shared with the prime minister a uniquely American tradition of bracketology — March Madness,” Obama announced on Cameron’s arrival at the White House Wednesday morning.
“I will leave America with some new words,” Cameron replied. “Alley-oops, brackets, fast breaks.”
“I’m still trying to get David to fill out his bracket,” Obama reported later, at a news conference in the Rose Garden. Obama also mentioned an earlier ping-pong match at which he and Cameron got “thrashed” by some kids.
“I’m trying to make up to you with the gift of a table tennis table,” answered Cameron, who had indeed provided the president with such a table earlier in the day.
“We should practice this afternoon,” suggested Obama, who reciprocated by supplying his British friend with a charcoal grill.
Cameron had a better idea. “One of these days I’ll get my own back by getting you to a cricket match,” said the Eton and Oxford-educated prime minister.
During the question time, a British correspondent cautioned Obama that a cricket match can last five days.
But it just may take that long for the two men to run out of ways to praise each other and their oh-so-special relationship. Obama went out of his way to call his new friend by his Christian name: “I value David’s leadership and partnership so much. … I very much appreciate David’s perspective. … I want to commend David personally for the leadership role he plays. … I concur with everything David said. … I’d echo everything that David said.”
Maybe it was the scent of the saucer magnolias flowering in the Rose Garden, but Cameron was downright awestruck by his host, whom he called Bar-ACK:
“I have to say, Barack, with that spectacular command of our shared language … Barack, thank you, because there are some countries whose alliance is a matter of convenience, but ours is a matter of conviction. … As Barack has said, the relationship between Britain and America is the strongest that it has ever been.”
David hailed the World War II service of Barack’s grandfather. Barack tried to speak David’s English: “David, we are chuffed to bits that you are here and I’m looking forward to a great natter.” David expressed regret for the British burning of the White House in 1812. Barack gave one of the two questions for the American side to Reuters’ correspondent Alister Bull, whose accent matches Cameron’s. Some of the American reporters grumbled.
“It’s the special relationship,” Bull said.
“It’s a special relationship,” Obama agreed.
Dana Milbank’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.