In another life I imagine the Cameron and Obama households could be good family friends. There was something sentimental about the genuine warmth in the friendship between the two couples, as it was displayed in Washington last week. When David Cameron and Barack Obama took to paying their respective compliments to one another at the White House state dinner on Wednesday there was something deeper than the puppet invoking patron-client relationship that marked the Bush-Blair relationship. As statesmen, Cameron and Obama evoke a Churchillian air of decency and morality that their predecessors never even briefly touched.
And yet merely displaying a genuine friendship that ordinary people can relate to is irrelevant in the judgements that are to be made on their political leadership. The reality is that the symbolic value of Anglo-American relations remains the same as it has done since the end of the Second World War. American foreign policy requires British liberal support (and a vote at the UN Security Council). It is the significance of this subordinate position that maintains Britain’s relevance on the world stage.
…Obama and Cameron find themselves in quite different positions…
Out with the significance of this mutuality, Britain and America, and indeed Obama and Cameron find themselves in quite different positions. Their economies, (as Obama himself readily admitted) operate on quite different levels. Whilst Cameron seemingly seeks to privatise the NHS, the President seeks to do the opposite to American healthcare. In terms of foreign policy, the Israeli lobby ties the USA to the Middle East in ways that do not apply to the UK. Cameron does not have to fight an election campaign for another 3 years, whilst the President faces one this year. Comparing the political opposition both men face displays best the vast chasms of difference between the two countries. The illiberal conservatism of Santorum and Romney would be taken as seriously as the BNP if they were to campaign in Britain. Likewise, an individual as lacking in charisma and as incapable of inspiring confidence as Ed Miliband would be laughed off any election podium in the States.
Like any right minded politicians would do, Cameron and Obama have sought to banish the burdensome legacy of Bush and Blair in beginning the withdrawal from Afghanistan and more generally dispelling any need to follow the neoliberal myth of that they inherited.
…without the test of any evidence against them…
But from a British perspective, the public still demand a response from the two leaders over one very specific issue; that of extraditions from the UK to the USA. Most recently the issue has been highlighted by the cases of Christopher Tappin, accused of selling military batteries to Iran, and Richard O’Dwyer, the student wanted by the USA for running an illegal file sharing website. The long running saga over Gary McKinnon, accused of hacking into Nasa and CIA computers remains the highest profile case and was something David Cameron promised he would confront when in opposition.
Essentially the agreement between the USA and Britain, which dates from 2004, allows American authorities to extradite British citizens with less evidence than would be needed for the UK to extradite a US citizen. The fact that British citizens can be sent across the Atlantic without the test of any evidence against them should be a major embarrassment to both Cameron and Obama. As Tappin made quite clear before he left Heathrow airport bound for Texas, ‘Abu Qatada is walking the streets of London today and we cannot extradite him. He has more rights than I have.’
…the prospect of the death penalty being used…
The Home Office even confessed that Theresa May had no option but the approve the extradition of O’Dwyer, as there are only four reasons why an extradition could be used, one of which was the prospect of the death penalty being used on the subject. O’Dwyer is a student and is no threat to anyone. He is exactly the sought of person who should be encouraged to develop ideas and innovations, not penalised for something that is arguably not against the law in the UK.
It is an outrage that the rights of British citizens are being infringed upon in such a manner. These extradition laws erode British sovereignty enforcing the clichéd master-puppet relationship between the two countries in a most unacceptable way.
So let us hope that if the Prime Minister had enough time to fly in Airforce One to a baseball game in Ohio during his three day trip, that he also had the time to stand up for the people of Britain and abolish this outrageous agreement.
Image courtesy of Ludovic Bertron