Alex Massie

Special Relationship Fretting: Ambassadorial Edition

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Time's Swampland blog pokes some fun at Britons getting "in a tizzy" over the apparent news that Obama is, like his predecessor, going to reward one of his fund-raisers by appointing Lou Susman to be the United States' Ambassador to the Court of St James. Apparently,

Susman shouldn't worry. Once the Brits get over their disappointment, they'll stop seeing him as Not-Oprah and remember he's Close-to-Obama.

Well, maybe. And it's true, of course, that much of the fretting and hand-wringing over the so-called "Special Relationship" is absurd. So much so that it's become one of the press's favourite pantomime acts. Nonetheless, there's a serious issue at stake too: recent American ambassadors here have been so negligent in their duties that only their closeness to the President (and their willingness to stock his campaign warchest) can have saved them from being recalled in disgrace.

This was most obviouly the case in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq when the US embassy in London made no attempt, if I recall correctly, to engage with British public opinion let alone try and persuade a pretty sceptical public that the Unites States had good and just cause for its actions. At no point did the then Ambassador deign to appear on the Today programme or Newsnight to put the American case; at no point did he seem interested in living up to the expectations that might properly be considered part of his job. The contrast with, say, Ray Seitz, the only career diplomat to have held the London post was instructive and unflattering in equal measure.

There's also, of course, some telling symbolism in the choices Obama has made: China gets John Huntsman, we get a guy nicknamed "Vaccuum cleaner" for his ability to hoover up funds for the new President. That's the way of the world of course and there's no point in denying that. But that doesn't mean that British fretting and undue sensitivity - at least in the press - is entirely unfounded or without merit.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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