Cameron and Obama: Both sides hope they can win in the game of basketball diplomacy

 

Washington

Afghanistan is on fire and the leaders of the two largest Nato powers fighting there, Barack Obama and David Cameron, were headed for a college basketball game in Ohio. Popcorn and hotdogs were on the agenda.

The Prime Minster and the President were victims of bad luck. Nobody could have foretold the rampage by a US solder at the weekend that left 16 innocent Afghan civilians dead and plunged relations between Kabul and Nato into crisis once more. Until then the boys' night out seemed like a fine idea.

British diplomats here were smug. Reinforcing the myth of that "special relationship" is what they are paid for. The trip to Ohio was to be on Air Force One and Mr Cameron is the first foreign leader invited on board by Mr Obama.

It was meant to be a no-lose opportunity for the President, too. America is settling down for its annual "March Madness" ritual, a month of college basketball competition that sends TV ratings through the roof. What better way to showcase camaraderie with his British counterpart than to share a first-round game with him?

Even setting aside Afghan sensibilities, Mr Obama may still have been glad to take the trip. Yesterday was another big moment in the Republican nomination contest with primaries in Alabama and Mississippi and Mr Obama has already demonstrated talent for siphoning media attention away from the GOP at pivotal moments.

Then there was the location of the game – the main arena at Dayton University which, according to the White House, is "steeped in basketball history". What it might have added is that Dayton is in the heart of Ohio, a state "steeped in electoral history". No Democrat since John F Kennedy has won the White House without first winning Ohio on election night.

With so much focus on the mess of the Republican primary competition, it is easy to forget that Mr Obama has his own concerns ahead of November. That his prospects for re-election remain dicey were highlighted by a New York Times/CBS poll yesterday that showed his approval rating sinking suddenly to 41 per cent, a terrible number for any incumbent hoping to keep his job. A Washington Post poll this week showed a slightly less dramatic slide.

If there are any second thoughts about sharing a page of basketball diaries, the two leaders will have time today to wear a more serious face. Behind closed doors there will be areas of potential difficulty. Washington has been disappointed by Britain's refusal to join the European Union's new fiscal discipline treaty, while London is equally irked the US voiced support for Argentina's call for talks at the UN on the Falkland Islands.

A joint press conference will emphasise what binds them particularly on foreign policy. The two leaders are equally anxious to restrain any Israeli impulse to attack Iran's nuclear facilities and keep on the sanctions track. They are also expected to pledge to stick with their plans for a phased withdrawal from Afghanistan through to the end of 2014 even if in Washington at least there is simmering debate about accelerating its pace.

Mr Cameron will not have the chance to reciprocate the sports invitation this summer. It will be Michelle Obama who leads the US delegation to the London Olympics, the White House said last night, not Barack.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee