WASHINGTON (TIP): President Obama embarked Wednesday, April 20, on a 3 nation tour of Saudi Arabia, Germany and the UK. It is widely believed that Obama’s visit is intended as a damage control exercise in view of his statements on Saudi Arabia and the UK in an interview he gave to The Atlantic magazine.
Politico says that people who have recently spoken to Saudi officials say Riyadh’s annoyance with Obama has spiked since last month’s publication of a much-discussed Atlantic magazine article on Obama’s worldview, which described the president as “clearly irritated that foreign-policy orthodoxy compels him to treat Saudi Arabia as an ally.”
Obama also told the magazine that Saudis will need to learn to “share” the Middle East with their archrival, Iran.
“This is kind of an awkward visit for Obama in the wake of his confessions in The Atlantic,” said David Ottaway, a Middle East scholar at the Wilson Center in Washington. “These are fighting words back in Riyadh, so I’m sure they’re going to ask him about what he means by these comments -and they will defend themselves.”
The same Atlantic article also caused a fuss in London -hardly a capital accustomed to gibes from Washington -thanks to some less-than-reverential Obama comments about British Prime Minister David Cameron.
The magazine reported that Obama had recently insisted to Cameron that Britain contribute its “fair share” to NATO’s budget (an agreed-upon minimum of 2 percent of British GDP) or endanger the famed “special relationship” with Washington; Obama partially blamed Cameron for the chaos of post-Qadhafi Libya, saying the British leader became “distracted” by other issues when he should have been playing a leading role in rebuilding the country; and he cited Cameron’s “failure” to win parliamentary approval for action supporting Obama’s 2013 airstrikes in Syria as a key reason why Obama aborted his planned military action.
Obama officials quickly sought to mitigate the damage, issuing statements and tweets about the value of the “special relationship.” But London wasn’t buying it.
“Britain’s ‘special relationship’ with the US comes under threat,” declared the Daily Mail. “Obama Savages Cameron on Libya,” blared London’s Independent. “Obama leaves Iraq in a mess, disengages from the Mid East, does nothing in Syria, Libya or Palestine & then blames us. Not much of a legacy,” tweeted Alan Duncan, a senior member of Cameron’s Conservative Party.
Rhodes noted that, since the “fair share” conversation between Obama and Cameron, the UK has increased its defense spending to 2 percent of GDP, meeting its NATO commitment. He called Britain “the opposite of a ‘free rider,'” a label Obama also seemed to apply to Britain in the article.
Obama can offer his own views when he holds a Friday news conference with Cameron at 10 Downing Street after lunch with Queen Elizabeth II. Obama is also likely to weigh in – at the news conference and at a town hall with young Britons the next day – on the country’s upcoming referendum on whether to withdraw from the European Union, a proposal that Obama opposes.