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UPDATED: Do you support Obama’s approach to foreign policy? VOTE HERE.

We’ll always have Berlin…. the days when it was all “Hope” and “Change” and governance was just a word.  The cheering throngs, the coordinated signs, the events and emotions and condescension palpable.  If the atheists could suspend their values for a moment, surely they too would acknowledge that last summer – in Berlin – that from the hereafter, Leni Riefenstahl looked upon Obama’s European debut with great pride in his stagecraft. (something she knew a little about after filming “Triumph of the Will“)

Okay, maybe not.  And certainly not now.  President Barack Obama was for many Americans and Europeans and Africans a welcome change from the presidency of George W.  Bush.  After all, War is hard.  No one likes to be inconvenienced by terrorism, bombings, kidnappings, beheadings, hijackings, and fights with OPEC over oil, and with Ghaddafi over their stash of WMDs, and Iran over nukes, and seriously – who isn’t tired of the Palestinian problem?  Like, Hamas? It’s like – we’re tired, man.  We want some hope-n-change.

War is hard.  Of course, to be honest – it’s not like America – or George W. Bush picked this fight.  Poverty is not a motivator for Usama bin Ladin.  He’s got a few hundred million dollars in liquid assets.  I don’t think he’s losing sleep over Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.  And he’s probably laughing that President Obama actually believes there are “two” Talibans.  One that we can work with, and one we can’t.  My guess is that the ones we can work with were the spectators in the soccer stadiumback in the pre-9/11 days when they beheaded women and stoned them to death for having an ankle exposed.  But hey, they were just watching.  So, compared to the guy with the machete – they were pretty moderate

Anyway, that’s an uncomfortable topic.  Let’s refocus on Europe for a minute.  July 2008 – Obama was gaining steam, kicking Hillary Clinton’s arse, and readying to take the world by storm.  Or, as Der Spiegel put it: “People of the world, Look at me.”

Obama began his speech with sentences about what he claimed not to be — at least for this one Thursday in Berlin: He was neither appearing here as a candidate nor a typical American. Instead, he claimed to be a “proud citizen of the United States and a fellow citizen of the world.” He added: “I know that I don’t look like the Americans who’ve previously spoken in this great city. My mother was born in the heartland of America, but my father grew up herding goats in Kenya. His father, my grandfather, was a cook for the British.” It’s a life story that would not have been possible without the freedom of the West.

And then he elegantly turned to the theme of Berlin. He had been heavily criticized for only wanting nice TV images in front of the Brandenburg Gate. In Obama’s words, however, the choice of the city seemed completely logical. “This city, of all cities, knows the dream of freedom. … In the darkest hours, the people of Berlin kept the flame of hope burning. The people of Berlin refused to give up,” he said. Obama called upon the people of the world to look at this city. That bit was lifted from Ernst Reuter, the former mayor of West Berlin, but it was a good quote to steal — and it applies well to trans-Atlantic relations. “Berlin is where Germans and Americans learned to work together and trust each other.”

Trust.  Hmm.  Trust implies the relationship between America & Germany – or America and any of her European allies is special.  That was then. 

This is now:

Further confirmation that the Obama administration may be downgrading the Special Relationship with Great Britain is provided by a State Department official in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph.

Asked about the underwhelming reception given to Gordon Brown when he visited the White House last week, the “furious” unnamed official, who was involved in the planning of the meeting, declared:

There’s nothing special about Britain. You’re just the same as the other 190 countries in the world. You shouldn’t expect special treatment.

Alrighty then.  So, the Brits can basically stuff it.  Nothing special.  My guess is that France and Germany should not expect anything different.  This kind of commentary won’t go unnoticed at the G20 meeting in London next month.  However – don’t expect Obama to be snubbed.  Instead, expect him to be showered with the good graces of his hosts.  Because PM Gordon Brown isn’t a tacky fellow.  To the contrary – he is an extraordinary man who will simply outclass Obama at every turn.

PM Brown’s visit was the icing on a rancid cake in my opinion.  What cake?  Ah, well – after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 – then PM Tony Blair offered a bust of Winston Churchill as a loan, as a sign of solidarity with the American people and our President.  It remained in the Oval Office for the duration of W’s tenure as President. 

From the Times: (updated for those requesting additional data)

Shortly before Mr Obama’s inauguration, the Jacob Epstein bronze is understood to have been removed and placed in storage by White House curators. Recent photographs show that a bust of Abraham Lincoln, one of the new President’s heroes, has been moved to take the position once occupied by Churchill.

Obama summoned an official from the British embassy to retrieve the artifact.  No war on terror.  No acknowledgement of the gracious spirit in which it was given.  And then, when it came time for the current Prime Minister to visit… things got even uglier.  

Protocol.  Manners.  Etiquette.  These are things that matter.  They communicate who we are as a people to our counterparts across the globe.  The White House protocol folks, the State Department protocolfolks, and the masters of protocol (in my not so humble, used to be one of them snarky way) at Military District Washington, MDW, would never advise, under any circumstance the wholesale tackiness that was to ensue.   

MDW manages the arrivals ceremonies – at Andrews Air Force Base. At the White House.  At the Pentagon.  And pretty much anywhere else inside the National Capitol Region.  They oversee the Presidential Honor Guard, a joint-service group that act as the President’s Official Escort.  And in some ways, they act as his proxy.  They also manage every burial at Arlington National Ceremony.  They are the faces you see in solemnity presiding over state funerals – think Reagan, Kennedy, Ford.  Those folks KNOW protocol. It is their job.  They are dedicated and assigned full time to protocol on behalf of the State.  And they are the President’s own for Inaugurals… these folks have been doing this since the beginning.  The Old Guard, the 3rd ID at Fort Myer – well, they harken back to General George Washington’s days.  So, it’s not like they – nor any of the protocol professionals that advise a president – are new at their jobs.

When PM Brown arrived, there was no presence.  No arrival at Andrews AFB.  No arrival on the South Lawn at the White House.  No State & Territorial flags with a cordon along the White House driveway.  No formal press conference in the Rose Garden, or the East Room.  No State Dinner.  Nothing.  Nada. Zilch. 

Not special enough I guess.  But it didn’t end there.  Presidents and their counterparts offfer gifts to each other.  Thoughtful, meaningful gifts are exchanged to symbolize the “special relationship” between our people.  President Obama must not agree because he gave PM Gordon Brown a boxed set of 25 DVDs showcasing American classic films.  No, I am not kidding.

From the Daily Mail:

As he headed back home from Washington, Gordon Brown must have rummaged through his party bag with disappointment.

Because all he got was a set of DVDs. Barack Obama, the leader of the world’s richest country, gave the Prime Minister a box set of 25 classic American films – a gift about as exciting as a pair of socks.

While the Daily Mail was a bit cheeky in their response, Toby Harnden of the Telegraph was straightforward in his piece “No need for DVDs: Gifts Obama Could Have Given Gordon Brown.”  My favorite on his list:

pewter flagonfrom the site of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America.  The flagon, which dates from before 1620, bears the initials P, R and E on its thumbrest, may have belonged to Richard and Elizabeth Pierce, who arrived at Jamestown on board “a faire ship, the Neptune”, which set sail from London in 1618.

While perhaps not as grand, I would certainly have taken a quick drive from my new house out to my old neighborhood and asked for advice on behalf of the stumbling Obama White House from Civil Rights icon Myrlie Evers, widow of Medgar Evers who was slain on his own doorstep.  Certainly, Mr. Obama could have found something from the Civil Rights era… or anything on Mr. Harnden’s list.  But DVDs?  It is truly unconscionable.

What did PM Gordon Brown offer?  Well, in addition to a first edition seven-volume set biography of Winston Churchill (ahem) he brought a penholder carved from the Oak timbers of the HMS Gannet. Why is that significant?  Well, the Gannet participated in anti-slavery missions, and was the sister ship to the HMS Resolute, from which two desks were carved.  One sits in Queen Elizabeth’s study, the other resides in the Oval Office.  To say Gordon Brown ‘thought it through’ is a great understatement.  It was a kind, thoughtful acknowledgement from our greatest ally of the true accomplishment that America is leaving the stain of the Middle Passage behind her.

Of course, the insult continued.  With First Lady Michelle Obama.  Her detractors are having “I told you so” moments from sea to shining sea.  In a stroke of complete ignorance, she gave Prime Minister Brown’s wife Sarah couple of toy plastic Marine One helicopters for their sons.  Seriously. 

From the Times:

Mrs Brown may have two boys but she certainly knows the way to a little girl’s heart. These were gifts chosen in the true spirit of present-giving: to please the recipient, not the giver.

In return Mrs Obama gave the Brown children, Fraser and John, two toy models of Marine One, the Presidential helicopter. Fair enough on the helicopter part, always a popular choice with small boys; but Marine One? It’s not as though anyone needs reminding that Barack Obama is President or that he has his own helicopter. Short of giving the boys Action Man models of her own husband smiting the evil forces of neoconservatism, Mrs Obama’s gesture could not have been more solipsistic or more inherently dismissive of Mrs Brown. ot only did she demonstrate that she spent approximately three seconds contemplating the needs of the Brown boys (having an aide pop to the White House gift shop for a piece of merchandising does not imply a great deal of thought), she appeared to show a most uncharacteristic lapse of judgment.

It might have been possible to overlook the incident were it not for the official photograph.

The White House released one picture of the two women and it does not appear to have been selected with any kind of special relationship in mind. There is a menacing bunch of pink peonies in the foreground and the angle is most unflattering to Mrs Brown, who has the air of a woman very much in need of a stiff drink.

Whether deliberate or not, the whole thing feels like a snub.

Like her husband, Sarah Brown brought thougtful books, dresses and jewelry from London’s Top Shop, for Sasha and Malia.  What made the plastic helicopters so insulting was they came from the White House gift shop, downstairs in the OEOB.  The gifts were clearly a rush, an afterthought, and not of any significant importance.

As an American, I am embarrassed.  Unfortunately, it’s not just protocol that is the problem.  It’s policy.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made some curious remarks about Human Rights, leading some to believe that closing Guantanamo was about appeasing the American anti-war Left, while doing nothing to really make a stand on Human Rights. 

Nowhere are these basic needs more under assault than in Darfur.  Obama promised “unstinting resolve” in 2008.  But, to date, he has done nothing.  Not even mentioned it as a priority.  Every president has a huge portfolio.  So, bad economy or not – he doesn’t get a pass.  Hiring a couple of staffers, appointing an envoy, and getting engaged is cheap, easy, and effective. 

Why does Darfur matter?  There are many, many reasons.  Not the least of which is our own national security.  In 1993, when our troops were in Somalia delivering humanitarian aid to the Somali people – who suffering because of a horrible famine… something happened.  A little known anti-Saudi, anti-US terrorist was just getting his sea legs.  Spurned by the Saudis, his citizenship revoked, and humiliated in front of his family and followers – Usama bin Ladin cowered in the Sudan and Afghanistan.  He funneled his millions through construction and other projects to dirty warlords, like Mohammad Farah Aidid.  He provided Aidid with cash, weapons, missiles, food, and other staples — in October 1993, Aidid’s men – armed by bin Ladin – struck back against our troops.  Creating the “Blackhawk Down” incident. 

Had Clinton stayed, fought, and taken down Aidid – and a much weaker bin Ladin – instead of an aspirin factory, we would be living in a much different world. (note link to NYT piece, utilizing Peter Bergen & Mark Bowden’s research on the topic)

What we do in Africa, and what we don’t do, matters.  Darfur is not only terrorized by the Islamic militant Janjaweed – who rape, torture, and murder – but also by the shadow of Rwanda.  When America, also on Bill Clinton’s watch, turned a blind eye to a genocide.

Now, the International Criminal Court at the Hague has issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Bashir, who is in bed with the Janjaweed, he has expelled humanitarian aid organizations.  Kicking out the very people who provide food, potable water, and medical care – but also the witnesses who would tell the story of Darfuris being mowed down. 

From Save Darfur on March 11, 2009:

The Save Darfur Coalition today called on President Obama to press the Sudanese government to immediately reinstate the licenses of 13 international humanitarian groups expelled from Darfur last week. In a letter cosigned by 54 coalition partners, the groups said that the administration should urgently undertake a sustained diplomatic effort to resolve the Darfur crisis and restore peace to all of Sudan.

“We know from your commitment to Darfur as a senator and your campaign pledge of ‘unstinting resolve’ to end the Darfur genocide that you believe the United States and its citizens cannot stand by while civilians are unjustly targeted by their own government,” the groups wrote in the letter. “Now, with millions of lives hanging in the balance, we must act immediately. Any delay will lead to even greater loss of life in Darfur.”

The organizations expelled from Darfur are a part of a humanitarian apparatus that provides relief to 4.7 million Darfuri civilians. It is estimated by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance that their expulsion will leave 1.1 million Darfuris without food aid, 1.5 million without access to healthcare and more than one million without potable water.

“The denial of life-saving food, water and medical care in Darfur is a human rights violation that endangers health and threatens lives,” said Frank Donaghue, CEO of Physicians for Human Rights. “The recent outbreak of meningitis in Darfur’s Kalma Camp is just the beginning of the widespread suffering that the expulsion of humanitarian aid groups will cause.”

And Obama remains silent. 

—Media Lizzy

PS: I’ve updated this post with links to source articles, and additional excerpts to provide those seeking clarity more of it.