Cameron and Obama: Both sides hope they can win in the game of basketball diplomacy
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.
- 2 How the language you speak changes your view of the world
- 4 Italian police 'reveal' what Jesus looked like as a young boy
'Fire at every person you see': Israeli soldiers reveal they were ordered to shoot to kill in Gaza – even if the targets may have been civilians
Italian police 'reveal' what Jesus looked like as a young boy
Who should I vote for? The Independent quiz matches best political party for undecided voters ahead of the general election
First-time buyers in London 'need to earn at least £77,000'
General Election 2015: Photographic history of Bullingdon Club tracked down - including new picture of David Cameron in his finery
In defence of liberal democracy
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils
£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Manager - Birmingham - ...
£25000 - £30000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Sthree are looking fo...
£20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...
£18000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...