David Cameron and Barack Obama spoke this evening about their special relationship. Normally when people start talking a lot about their relationships in public, it’s because something is wrong (or they’ve just started out and like to hold loud and impressive conversations about whether to cook the salmon or the homemade ravioli in front of as many people as possible). So the fact that the importance of the special relationship was not just raised in the call, but included in the Number 10 readout suggests the pair were calling in the marriage counsellors. A No 10 spokesperson said:
‘The President stressed his appreciation of his strong friendship with the Prime Minister and of the strength, durability and depth of the special relationship between our two countries. They agreed that their co-operation on international issues would continue in the future and both reiterated their determination to find a political solution to the Syrian conflict by bringing all sides together.’
Now, even though George Osborne and others fear that last night’s defeat on Syria signals a retreat into isolationism (Fraser picked that reasoning apart this morning), one Commons defeat is not itself a trend in foreign policy. Granted, it may mark the start of a trend, but it may equally be an anomaly. But Parliament’s verdict will naturally have repercussions for the Special Relationship, and if you were in any doubt about that, John Kerry’s statement this evening made clear with a number of snippy comments that Britain was going to have to do more than bring home some garage flowers and box of milk tray. He omitted Britain from his list of friends supporting the US response to the chemical attacks in Syria:
‘The world is speaking out. And many friends stand ready to respond. The Arab League pledged, quote, “to hold the Syrian regime fully responsible for this crime.” The Organization for Islamic Cooperation condemned the regime and said we needed, quote, “to hold the Syrian government legally and morally accountable for this heinous crime.” Turkey said there is no doubt that the regime is responsible.
‘Our oldest ally, the French, said the regime, quote, “committed this vile action, and it is an outrage to use weapons that the community has banned for the last 90 years in all international conventions.” The Australian prime minister said he didn’t want history to record that we were, quote, “a party to turning such a blind eye.”’
That phrase ‘our oldest ally’ will sting, even though it is historically accurate. But Obama and Cameron also discussed the British Prime Minister’s predicament in personally supporting strikes against Assad but finding himself without the support of Parliament. The Number 10 spokesperson added in their readout of the call:
‘The Prime Minister and President Obama spoke this evening to discuss the response to last week’s chemical attack in Syria. The PM made clear that he strongly believes in the need for a tough and robust response to the appalling war crime committed by the Assad regime in Ghouta. The PM explained that he wanted to build a consensual approach in Britain for our response and that the Government had accepted the clear view of the House against British military action. President Obama said he fully respected the PM’s approach and that he had not yet taken a decision on the US response.’
The two countries aren’t taking time apart to ‘evaluate’ their relationship just yet, but it’s clear tonight that there’s not much that’s special to boast about for the time being.