We all pay attention when Barack Obama criticises David Cameron. Such things rarely happen. Although Anglo-American relations are quite often fraught, the conventions of the alliance are strong. Disagreements are private, or expressed publicly only in oblique language. This week, however, the President said that Mr Cameron had been “distracted by a range of other things” after bombing Libya. Britain and France, he suggested, had left Libya a “mess” – or something more unprintable, which was, nevertheless, printed.
If the public wondered how serious this attack was, doubt was quickly dispelled when the administration rushed to correct their boss’ outburst. The BBC could not stop reporting that the follow-up email they had received from the White House expressing sudden presidential joy in the Special Relationship had been completely unsolicited.
Great was the rage in 10 Downing Street that provoked this grovel from Washington. Here was Mr Cameron trying to show British voters in our forthcoming EU referendum that his leadership bestrides Europe and America and that his foot in one camp secures his foot in the other. And here was the President of the United States saying that the Europeans in general (“free riders”), and his closest European ally in particular (Mr Cameron), were useless.