These last few days, the prefect has been doing his best to oblige. "Unique" and "exceptionally important" are the phrases that trip off the tongues of administration officials when questioned about relations between London and Washington. All of which is true, but the very fact that such reassurance is neccessary somehow only increases the insecurity and humiliation of those upon whom it is bestowed. Before national self-flagellation gets out of hand however, a little objectivity might be helpful.
Yes, relations with the United States are going through a bumpy patch. Yes, the personal chemistry between the Prime Minister and Mr Clinton is poor. Yes, in terms of the position it had staked out, Britain "lost" over Gerry Adams. Obscured, however, by that setback (which in any case might yet prove to have been vital for the peace process) has been a notable triumph of diplomacy. Thanks largely to unremitting British pressure, the Clinton administration has come down unequivocally against lifting the arms embargo on Bosnia, a step that probably would have caused the worst crisis in Nato since Suez. In the Senate, it is doubtful whether Bob Dole, the Majority leader, can even drum up a simple majority in favour of lifting the ban, although that might change if the current ``ceasefire'' unravels. But a two-thirds majority required to override a presidential veto, is out of the question. Britain's performance, as Mr Dole has tartly observed, may not have been heroic, but it hardly bespeaks a lack of influence.
Add to this the "institutional" side of the relationship - the military, nuclear and intelligence collaboration probably unrivalled between any two countries - and Britain has even less ground to feel shunned. As Tony Lake, Mr Clinton's national security adviser puts it, "these are realities". Not bad for a middling European power, professing to be a bridge between the US and Europe, but whose ruling party cannot even agree on its role in Europe. The "special relationship", insofar as it existed, was forged in the Second World War and survived the Cold War which followed it. The Cold War is over. Perhaps we should be thankful we are still friends.