The National Catholic Review

[LONDON] "I am told that the last three speakers here have been the Pope, Her Majesty the Queen and Nelson Mandela," President Obama began his speech at Westminster Hall, "which is either a very high bar or the beginning of a very funny joke".

President Obama is the first ever US President to address both Houses of Parliament -- and only the fourth foreign leader (the others were Pope Benedict XVI in September last year, Nelson Mandela in 1996 and Charles de Gaulle in 1960) to do so -- in this most historic of parliamentary places, site of the executions of kings and martyrs.

The address never quite reached the oratorial skies of some of his great speeches, but was warm, beautifully delivered, and intended to reinforce and recast the "special relationship" between the US and UK as founded less on historic sentiment as much as shared values. 

Despite "a small scrape over tea and taxes" and the burning of the White House during the War of 1812, Obama joked, "fortunately it's been smooth sailing ever since."

Most of the speech was taken up with enumerating those values, and seeing them as crucial for guiding the outcome of the Arab spring. It was the United States and the United Kingdom, and our democratic allies, he said, "that shaped a world in which new nations could emerge and individuals could thrive."

Being British and American, he said, was about "believing in a certain set of ideals -- the rights of individuals and the rule of law"; the speech was peppered with other examples: believing that "everyone is endowed by our Creator with certain rights that cannot be denied"; tolerance; self-determination; dignity.

Perhaps the most interesting  -- and daring -- part of the speech was about immigration and assimilation. In the US and the UK, he said, "it is possible for people to be united by their ideals, rather than divided by their differences" and "possible for hearts to change and hatreds to pass". This assimilation through acquiring shared values made it meant, he said, that immigrants "can pledge allegiance to our flag and call themselves American"; "in Britain, they can sing 'God save our Queen' like any other citizen."

That led to the line that caused the 1,000-strong audience of MPs and peers to applaud. It was this openness, he said, that enabled "this grandson of a Kenyan cook who served in British army to stand before you as President of the United States."

Earlier, at a press conference, the British prime minister and the US president agreed to turn up the heat on Gadaffi. "We will continue those operations until Gaddafi's attacks on civilians cease," Obama said. "Time is working against Gaddafi and he must step down from power and leave Libya to the Libyan people."

The commentators agree that the last 48 hours of pomp and pageantry have been a great success, solidifying a relationship which it is in the interests of both nations to continue to promote, not just in their own interests, but those of the world.

But the so-called "special relationship" has been recast here as an "essential relationship" -- a pragmatic alliance of strategic interests as well as (you guessed it) shared values. 

What has been very striking, however, is the esteem which President Obama commands here. Following his speech at Westminster Hall, the MPs and the Lords did their best not to appear undignified in their anxiety to press his flesh, as the President made his way slowly through them, exchanging smiles and jokes.

POTUS, in short, has wowed and wooed.

Comments

Anonymous | 5/31/2011 - 1:34pm
Jimmy, only in light of the realization that America faced a global threat of jihad leading towards a new Caliphate does the invasion and occupation of Iraq - with or without WMDs - make sense.

Those who simply refuse to accept the premise that Caliphate is the goal of Al Qaeda and all the other terror organizations and indeed, Islam itself (it is), refuse to accept as logical the US' response to 9/11 on anything but a crazy conspiratorial level.

It's much like those who simply refused to accept the premise that Communism as directed by the USSR was a global hegemonic threat seeking world dominion could not accept the US' strategy of containment and global "forward deployment".

So the argument is not "what did Bush know and when and therefore how desperately we seek him to be a moral failure for purely domestic tribal partisan reasons...." but what he or any POTUS would do given the facts of a global terror threat stirring passions in the volitile Middle East which just so happens to sit on a huge portion of the world's oil and astride the world's shipping lanes.

Once you look at the geopolitical facts on the ground without your Democratic or Republican ideological blinders, you come to some sets of conclusions which strike most people as "duh" obvious.

1) Dictatorships or failed states both provide the USA with equal degrees of "insurance" against the rise of a single Muslim super-power; dictators because their personal cupidity keeps the "ummah" from forming beyond their little kingdoms and failed states because the very definition of Caliphate is ORGANIZATION, not disorganization.

2) Power abhors a vacuum... if the USA isn't the world power involved at the scene then some other power WILL take our place (like China or India or Russia...) and indeed we're fools if we think they and others aren't right now seeking to stir the pot in their favor and against us....such that even if we pulled out of the Middle East and abandoned Israel, we wouldn't see Kumbaya peace bloom.

3) Apart from political union, the next (and most grievious) threat is technological sophistication - thus Iraq was a far bigger threat to the US than Iran is even with their advanced nuke program because Iraqi industry was further along than Iran's and Iraqis are Arabs not Persians (meaning if they mastered some tech, they'd more likely share it among the Arab tribes than the Persians would). This is why selling those regimes already built weapon systems (and spare parts) is far more important (and good for peace) than would be the case if they had home-grown military-industrial complexes of their own. So all you peaceniks out there.... if you want peace it's much better if we or outside countries continue to sell them weapon systems rather than not and having them make their own.

4) The entire history of man from 5000 BC to the present is one of warfare, ambition, corruption etc. and unilateral disarmament has never, EVER, worked to create "peace" because evil men and evil men ruling evil political parties that control entire nations or blocs do not respond to dialogue and self-control, but to force or the reliable threat thereof..... ergo, any one who genuinely wants peace either in a city, a state, our nation or among nations, but seeks to achieve this by disarming those who are open to moral persuasion... is a fool and utterly ignorant of history both revealed and secular. Try disarming the Police and see what would happen in Detroit or Flint. Now try disarming the FBI or Secret Service.... and if that prospect is absurd when dealing with unorganized criminals, how much more absurd is it to disarm the USA in a world of nation-states and non-state armies motivated by dozens of ancient ideologies or new crazes?

Peace as Tranquilitas ordinis can come about only with great effort and a balance of power, not by the good disarming. Yes, Christians among ourselves can and do accomplish peace in marriage, families, towns and nations. But we're by and large not the problem in the first place. Treating everyone like monks when most are decidedly not motivated by Christianity is foolhardy. Yet so many of us seem to simultaneously mistrust the US Military (as warmongers) while endowing the UN or every other nations' military-industrial complex with utterly benign intentions despite all the evidence to the contrary and testimony of world history!

Anonymous | 5/27/2011 - 10:41am
People, you all do recall that there were a dozen reasons why Congress authorized Bush to invade Iraq, right? It wasn't just "he's got WMDs and the imminent means to deliever them". Remember the whole bruhaha we waded through in 2002-2003 over what would constitute a 'real and present danger', and whether even having chemical munitions in artillery shells or gravity bombs 'counted' as an immediate or imminent threat to CONUS? I do. I remember being haragued by people, good people, Catholic theologian types, about how even if Saddam had medium range ballistic missiles with chemical warheads, it wouldn't be enough to justify invasion.

Even the fact that he killed thousands of his own people was no excuse for us to invade. Or that he routinely shot at our planes patrolling the UN mandated no-fly zones constituted acts of war justifying our invasion.

Meanwhile, in 2011, the USA through NATO has begun long term hostilities with Libya.... without any excuse of WMDs, or Libyan hostility towards the USA or allies, or any question as to whether they pose an imminent or even potential "threat" to our safety. They don't. So it's bombs away and no one cares. So much for "principled" anti-war movements!

So that's point one.... the anti-Iraq war people are hypocrites - proved by their acceptance of the war in Libya.

Point two, is what was the geo-political goal post 9/11 for America facing both a world-wide Al Qaeda movement and other terror movements whose stated ideological goals were the re-creation of the historic Caliphate and subsequent to this, the armed take over of the world. When faced with such an enemy, composed mostly of ethnic arabs, one doesn't put all one's eggs in the Afghanistan basket! Winning in land locked, Pashtun *(non-arab!) Afghanistan does not preclude the Caliphate like parking a huge land army smack dab in the middle of the ancient Caliphate's heartland which just so happens to be....Iraq.

Just as forward deployment on a global scale and a nuclear triad was the inevitable smart move for the USA to fight and win the Cold War with international Communism and a nuclear armed USSR....so too, the only smart move post 9/11 was to do all we can to pre-clude the rise of Caliphate, to advance the cause of local, tribal, national allegiances, ideological democracy and religiously the idea of intrinsic human rights. Only that would definitely pre-clude any chance of Caliphate.

But you pundits on line here and elsewhere are either not well read enough (which is likely) or just haven't been paying attention to what the USA does, as opposed to what the peanut gallery of the NYT and others say we do with great blowing of smoke and distracting mirrors.

Nut shell: if you want to survive a nuclear exchange with the USSR armed with ICBMs, then you absolutely have to park 50% of your military around the globe or afloat in all the world's oceans, such that they can't possibly hit them all, and you therefore will always have assets to both win the war and mop up the peace. It's called deterance and it's worth the cost of all those bases.

If you want to preclude the rise of a new Ottoman empire/Caliphate sitting astride the world's shipping lanes and oil reserves... then you park most of your army, airforce and navy smack dab in the middle of those lands. (This also has the added benefit of allowing the USA to control the world's shipping lanes, and baby sit the world's oil supplies.)

Now tell me again why Bush was stupid for invading Iraq but Obama is brilliant for attacking Libya.
Anonymous | 5/27/2011 - 2:20pm
Kevin,

Wherein have I accused America of "cheerleading" on Libya?  I was raising the incongruity of the comments focusing on the Churchill bust versus the comments made that same day about the current whatever-we-want-to-call-it-except-war that we're engaged in in Libya.  So more at the comments than America.

Although I am troubled by the curious silence among American liberals over Libya, and over today's re-authorization of the Patriot Act via autopen; the list of "If this were Bush moments" continues to get longer for me.  I must have missed Cindy Sheehan's protests.
Helena Loflin | 5/27/2011 - 1:32pm
According to FactCheck.org, a nonpartisan website operated by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, the Obamas weren't alone among world leaders in not receiving invitations. In fact, a spokesman for Prince Charles told the website in February that "no other heads of state other than those from foreign royal families have been invited to the wedding."  The bust is bust already. 

Bush still lied.  Repeatedly.  Until enough Americans believed that there were WMDs.  And, the lies were so effective that many poorly informed among us STILL believe the WMDs exist/ed.

So, Obama changed his mind about taking private campaign funds.  Did that result in an immoral and unjust invasion of a country, and 4000+ dead American heroes, for the sole purpose of securing oil leases?  False equivalency to say the very least.
Helen Smith | 5/26/2011 - 5:45pm
JR Cosgrove:

Thank you for the links.

Your certainly have rounded up the usual suspects.
 
Anonymous | 5/26/2011 - 9:44am
While y'all argue about a bust and all, this little bit just gets by:


Obama Warns of a Long Slog in Libya
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304520804576345111108851484.html?mod=WSJ_hps_sections_world

So where's that anti-war movement now?
Anonymous | 5/25/2011 - 11:46pm
The attitude toward George Bush is probably based on the misinformation the foreign press conveyed about him about the Iraq War.

I was on a cruise a few months ago and at our dinner table were a Danish couple and a French couple, both of whom are well traveled around the world and well read.  The French couple lived in the US for a short time as the husband worked for a US company and spent a dozen years in Puerto Rico.  During one evening, the conversation got round to politics and the French man said he detested George Bush.  I asked why and he said because he lied about Iraq and the WMD's.  


I said that was not true and that Bush never lied about WMD's and had bad informaton given to him by the CIA.  The same information given to Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry and other Democrats.  He obviously finally found out the truth after the efforts to find the WMD's led no where.  But he did not lie about them.  I said only kooks such as the birthers and the truthers believed that Bush lied and the big lie was that he lied. 

At that point the Danish couple got very animated and said all the foreign press had presented the information that Bush lied about the WMD's.  They obviously believed it too.  I said that might be true what the foreign press said but it doesn't mean it was accurate.  I told them if it were true then the American press and Democrats who hated Bush would have hounded him over this but they didn't.  No legitimate news source ever pressed it and that more than anything was evidence that Bush did not lie.  


They were astonished as they said everyone knew Bush lied but I had to tell them that there is no evidence of this and common sense told otherwise despite the foreign press.  They were stunned but had no answer.  The conversation then went elsewhere and we never discussed politics again.


So British attitudes towards Bush probably reflects this.  There is/was no self correcting mechanism in the foreign press so the false image persists till today.  But I bet if you ask why they do not trust Bush, it is because of this false image that has been allowed to persist.


At the same table was an American couple with strong ties to the Democratic party and the Kennedy's and the husband told me that several of the Kennedy's thought GW Bush was a saint for what he did for black Africans but would probably never admit it publically.
Helena Loflin | 5/26/2011 - 9:51pm

On Sept. 18, 2002, CIA director George Tenet briefed President Bush in the Oval Office on top-secret intelligence that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, according to two former senior CIA officers. Bush dismissed as worthless this information from the Iraqi foreign minister, a member of Saddam’s inner circle, although it turned out to be accurate in every detail. Tenet never brought it up again. Nor was the intelligence included in the National Intelligence Estimate of October 2002, which stated categorically that Iraq possessed WMD.
No one in Congress was aware of the secret intelligence that Saddam had no WMD as the House of Representatives and the Senate voted, a week after the submission of the NIE, on the Authorization for Use of Military Force in Iraq. The information, moreover, was not circulated within the CIA among those agents involved in operations to prove whether Saddam had WMD.
On April 23, 2006, CBS’s “60 Minutes” interviewed Tyler Drumheller, the former CIA chief of clandestine operations for Europe, who disclosed that the agency had received documentary intelligence from Naji Sabri, Saddam’s foreign minister, that Saddam did not have WMD. “We continued to validate him the whole way through,” said Drumheller. “The policy was set. The war in Iraq was coming, and they were looking for intelligence to fit into the policy, to justify the policy.”

Yep.  Bush and Cheney and Rice and Rumsfeld (to name a few) lied.
Anonymous | 5/26/2011 - 7:41pm

''Your certainly have rounded up the usual suspects.''

The fundamental things apply - As time goes by.
JIM MCCREA | 5/26/2011 - 4:44pm
"in Britain, they can sing 'God save our Queen' like any other citizen."


Heck, in San Francisco, we sing "God save our queens" all the time!  Big deal.
Helen Smith | 5/26/2011 - 1:11pm
walter mattingly
 
JR Cosgrove
Re: your comment: “I said that was not true and that Bush never lied about WMD's and had bad informaton given to him by the CIA.”
 
Reminds me of those lines from my favorite movie:
Captain Renault: What in heaven's name brought you to Casablanca?
Rick: My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters.
Captain Renault: The waters? What waters? We're in the desert.
Rick: I was misinformed.
 
Helena Loflin | 5/26/2011 - 12:26pm
Sadly, a lot of what gets repeated here as "factual" is just stuff fabricated by/at World Net Daily, NewsBusters, Red State, Drudge, Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, etc., etc.  A right-wing blog/ger will make up something, then get quoted by another right-wing blog/ger as a "source."  This goes on and on, each "source" adding their own bit of fabrication, until there's an imaginary international incident over a loaned bust of Winston Churchill.

Works like a charm to keep people misinformed and focused on the absurd.
Beth Cioffoletti | 5/26/2011 - 11:38am
We're still here, Jeff. 
Been to any Catholic Worker houses or Pax Christi meetings lately?

Check out this article on Pax Christi USA's website regarding the situation in Libya:

http://paxchristiusa.org/2011/04/02/libya-zunes-critiques-war-on-libya-offers-nonviolent-alternatives/

Here is PCUSA's official Statement on the change and conflict in North Africa and the Middle East:

http://paxchristiusa.org/2011/04/05/statement-pax-christi-usa-official-statement-on-change-and-conflict-in-north-africa-and-the-middle-east/
Beth Cioffoletti | 5/25/2011 - 5:34pm
I have a hard time believing that the British people were "deeply offended" because an American president preferred to have a bust of American Abraham Lincoln in his office rather than a British war leader.  Like Steve said, 72% of the British approve of Obama compared to 22% who were comfortable with GWB when he was in office.  (I just saw those statistics over at the Daily Dish as well).
Stephen SCHEWE | 5/25/2011 - 5:07pm
Yep, the audience sure looked deeply insulted after the speech.  I bet you guys are really good at finding spots on the apples when you go grocery shopping.

The latest public opinion poll in Britain, according to the Times, shows Obama trusted by 72% of the British people; the equivalent number for George W. when he was in office was 22%.

President Obama is a great leader for the tough times we live in. I sleep better at night knowing that he's in the White House.
Mark Harden | 5/25/2011 - 4:20pm
For what it's worth: beth, your statement is half-true, the bust was scheduled to be returned. But in fact the British graciously offered to extend the loan of the bust, only to be summarily rejected by the Obama administration. The British were deeply insulted by Obama's not accepting the extension of the loan.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/barackobama/4623148/Barack-Obama-sends-bust-of-Winston-Churchill-on-its-way-back-to-Britain.html 
Beth Cioffoletti | 5/25/2011 - 4:11pm
The bust of Churchill was not "gifted" to the United States, but was loaned specifically to GWB.  It was scheduled to be returned to Britain even before Obama took office.
Margaret Heft | 5/26/2011 - 1:33am
Dear walter mattingly:

I believe that accuracy in media is vital in a democracy. Without truth, how do we as American citizens make the key decisions about who to choose as leaders of our country? If we do not learn the truth about those candidates, and just what morals and values those candidates possess, we are forfeiting democracy. We are casting aside our opportunity to vote for the candidate who best represents us. 

Even as I read this article, I am struck by the honestly of the author's narrative of President Obama's experiences in Great Britain. Unfortunately, the first comment I read gives a backhanded and unsubstantiated remark about Obama being ''good on television.'' The second comment relates a diatribe of aspersions about President Obama's morals, courtesy, and values.

1. ''This from a president who amost as his first act insulted our British ally...''

Here is a person willing to bypass truth and, as many others have done, repeat a story that has proven, many, many times, to be untrue: The bust of Winston Chrchill was LOANED to President George Bush when he was elected President for the first time. Although it was loaned for his first term in office, and was then to be sent back to England; however, it was kept by Bush until the end of Bush's second term. It was at that time shipped back to England. This bust had nothing to do with President Obama, and it is flabbergasting to suggest that the President of the United States, whose office has a Chief of Protocol (who, among many duties, handles these shipping errands), would have returned a loaned bust of Churchill to insult Parliament and the Queen of England.The Chief of Protocol made the proper arrangements for the LOANED bust to be returned to England.

To also suggest that President Obama is lacking in morals, would, I should think, necessitate a list of primary documentation. I, for one, anxiously await this documentation.

2. ''the hypocrisy suggested by the two contrasting situations notwithstanding.''

What hypocrisy can we gather from a non-existent slight to England? President Bush was loaned the bust of Churchill and England got back their LOAN; President Obama has his bust of Abraham Lincoln where Churchill once rested. That is all there is to this story. As a practicing Catholic, I would think the very first thing all of us should do is search for truth, find the truth, and tell the truth.
Molly Roach | 5/25/2011 - 11:40pm
Detraction of the President has become the favored indoor sport of the country. 
Very dreary. 
Helena Loflin | 5/25/2011 - 11:38pm
The more successful, effective and respected President Obama is, the more desperately his detractors behave.  

Hey, t?hose British are really something.  The more insulted they are by what you do, the more elaborate the state dinner they throw for you. 
Beth Cioffoletti | 5/25/2011 - 7:32pm
Happy to oblige, walter.

Wondering what is at the heart of your sarcasm (and paranoia)?  Do you just not trust Obama to be as "authentic" as GWB?