Ahead of President Obama's upcoming visit to the country, a prominent British politician has dubbed the American leader the most "anti-British" U.S. president in history.
“Mercifully, this American president, who is the most anti-British American president there has ever been, won’t be in office for much longer, and I hope will be replaced by somebody rather more sensible when it comes to trading relationships with this country,” Nigel Farage said Friday, according to Britain's Press Association.
That's quite the bold statement. It's also almost certainly untrue (to give just one example, George Washington actively fought against British rule during the American Revolutionary War, almost certainly making him a better contender for the title).
So why exactly did Farage say it?
Obama's views on Britain have been the subject of a remarkable scrutiny since he entered office. In 2009, the British press criticized him for apparently sending a bust of Sir Winston Churchill back to Britain, with some outlets even suggesting that it was revenge for Churchill's 1952 decision to crush the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya (the reality of the situation, The Washington Post's Fact Checker recently explained, was more complicated and less controversial). More recently, Obama's views on Britain became the topic of debate when a magazine profile appeared to show him criticizing the foreign policy decisions of David Cameron.
Underlying these controversies was a growing sense from both sides of the Atlantic that maybe the "special relationship" that had existed between the United States and Britain since World War II was on the rocks. Unlike many other American leaders who were clearly Anglophiles, Obama appeared to have no special affection for Britain, favoring rising powers to former colonial empires. Personally, he has always seemed more swayed by the technocratic skills of someone like Angela Merkel than the privileged charm of Cameron.
(To be fair, this is somewhat a two-way street. Cameron himself has often seemed more interested in courting rising giants like India and China than standing closely at America's side.)
Despite this, Farage's comments are likely motivated by something more immediate. As leader of the upstart Ukip party, Farage is one of the key politicians in the campaign to get Britain to leave the European Union. Tellingly, he made his comment about Obama as he protested a pro-E.U. leaflet sent out by the government recently. Britain is due to hold a nationwide "Brexit" referendum on membership in the E.U. this summer, and the U.S. president has already come out in support of Britain remaining in the E.U.
Tony McCulloch, a senior fellow in North American studies at University College London and an expert on the special relationship, says that he sees no real substance to Farage's comment. "Mr. Farage is using any argument he can think of to support the 'Brexit' campaign and, of course, Obama – like all previous U.S. presidents since JFK – strongly favours Britain's membership of the European community," he explains in an e-mail.
This annoyance at Obama's public stance on the Brexit vote isn't limited to Farage. London Mayor Boris Johnson, a man who has a good chance at being prime minister himself someday, has called it "outrageous hypocrisy." And despite concern over the supposed demise of the special relationship, it may be the American president's popularity in Britain that draws so much ire: A poll conducted by Pew last year found that 76 percent of Brits felt confidence in Obama to do the right thing in global affairs.
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