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Tuesday 13th March 2012 | 08:52
So, Mr Cameron goes to Washington and he has a lot on his plate other than a lavish banquet at the White House. Afghanistan tops the agenda, but Syria and Iran will feature heavily. Even issues such as extradition and the Falklands look likely to crop up, not least because both leaders will be expecting reporters to ask about them. Sam Cam, George Osborne and William Hague are all on this super-powered Official Visit (Anorak alert: Her Maj has a busy Diamond Jubilee so this isn't a State Visit).
The main event in the PM’s diary today is essentially an audition for Best Supporting Actor in the Barack Obama re-election campaign. David Cameron will be alongside the President as he attends a college basketball tournament in Dayton, Ohio. This very much feels like an Obama campaign swing through a swing state, neatly combining prime time TV images of him as both man of the people and World Statesman. We’re told Dave won’t be shooting hoops personally and he’d better not be: unlike his close table tennis match with the Prez in London last year, he hasn’t a clue how to chuck a basketball. Aides are certainly nervous that he'll be asked to 'have a go': Blair-style globe-trotter he maybe, but Harlem Globetrotter he ain't.
The Americans take this college basketball tournament very seriously indeed and millions of people create their own 'bracket', a US version of Fantasy Football where you have to predict which teams will do well. Obama has already filled out his own 'bracket' his campaign team are encouraging the public to see if they can 'Beat the President'. The odds of correctly predicting the outcome are one in a million trillion. That's a bit longer than our Lottery'. Given that the PM has never filled out a football pools coupon, again he's going to plead the innocent Limey card on this one.
Crucially, Cam has decided not to meet any Republican candidates while here in the US. Of course, No.10 can hide behind their new-found policy of refusing to interfere in other nations' domestic politics, just as they did when refusing to meet Francois Hollande in London recently. But it's easy to see why the PM has ducked the chance to meet Obama's opponents: if he'd shaken hands with Romney, he would have had to shake hands with Rick 'Satan's alive' Santorum and Newt 'soak the rich' Gingrich. Ron Paul would have demanded more than a brush-past too, with the prospect of some hefty disagreements on foreign policy. It's far from clear that the PM, ever keen to win not lose women's votes back home, would want to be snapped with men who oppose not just abortion but contraception.
Downing Street are quietly pleased that the PM is the first foreign leader to be invited onto Obama's Air Force One for the Ohio leg of his visit. We'll see if the Airforce Oneupmanship is worth it after their half-time live interview during the first basketball match. Clark Kellogg, the CBS college basketball analyst doing the interview, could prove trickier than Paxman.
Of course, this trip isn't just about politics. Some serious business will be done in the key two-hour talks at the White House tomorrow, not least on Afghanistan and the Middle East. Today's Washington Post joint article from the PM and President showed how hard both men are striving to stress how much they value each other. No.10 knows that Obama has been gently tilting America's focus towards the Pacific but Cameron would point out that he too wants to respond to the massive market potential of the rising East. Yet events have proved that British military hardware, our diplomatic expertise and experience of the Middle East all prove we still matter in Washington.
(Relations between Downing Street and this White House haven't always been smooth. The two leaders surprised many when they didn't talk too much over Libya, though the US-French lead there worked well. There have also been hiccups over just when our troops will pull out of Afghanistan.)
There are some, however, who will say it is just a shame that it has taken Obama this long to fully appreciate how important London still is. The US ambassador in London, Louis Sussman inadvertantly put his finger on this yesterday, declaring that whenever "the President says ‘We have a problem’, our first call is to the United Kingdom and to the Prime Minister". Maybe it's too much to hope that in future the first call to London won't always be in a crisis. Or for a Hoop Dreams campaign swing.
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