Romney, the ‘special relationship,’ and the Mau Mau

I am dismayed by the Mitt Romney campaign “gaffe” about the U.K.-U.S. “special relationship” as the Republican contender for the presidency arrives in London in time for the Olympics.

Unfortunately, comments from an anonymous Romney adviser in London’s Daily Telegraph have set off another pointless round of soul-searching by the ever-paranoid Brits about their ranking as top dog in the relationship with Washington.

The Telegraph quoted the unnamed adviser as saying, "We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and [Romney] feels that the special relationship is special." But the adviser went further, adding, "The White House didn't fully appreciate the shared history we have."

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Of course, this allowed the White House to react furiously, in the person of Vice President Biden. But if you consider the broader context of the remarks, it is true that, more than any other president, Obama’s personal baggage, and in particular his Kenyan ancestry, give him more reason than any other president to take a more balanced view of the obviously close-knit relationship between the United States and the former colonial power that brutally suppressed the independence-seeking Mau Mau rebellion.

Yes, he removed the Churchill bust from the Oval Office, which Romney has pledged to restore. But Obama has made a sincere effort since taking office to have normal relations with Britain without the hysteria attached to the “special relationship.” Early on he caused anguished headlines in the U.K. press by speaking of a “partnership” with Britain. His first trip abroad as president was to Canada. He was accused of snubbing then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown at the U.N. His administration has highlighted the “pivot” to Asia, causing distress across Europe.

It goes without saying that the U.K. and U.S. have an extremely close relationship based on a shared history and culture, and tight defense ties. This conversation about the special relationship is so over. Please, can the Brits move on from this obsession, which is unworthy of a middle-sized power off the coast of Europe that is Britain today?

Meanwhile, Romney is capable of producing his own gaffes while in London. The Salt Lake City Winter Olympics czar has already had to walk back from his comment about the “disconcerting” lack of preparation for the London Games, which open tomorrow. It won’t have gone down well with his government hosts. But anyone who has sat for hours in a giant traffic jam in east London on his or her way to work this week will know exactly what he meant.