British support for the war in Afghanistan has slipped, and Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth publicly blamed Barack Obama’s dithering on the issue for the decline.  In a speech that will call into question Obama’s handling of foreign policy — and especially the “special relationship” — Ainsworth blasted the “period of hiatus” in American leadership.  It’s the latest salvo in increasingly strained ties between the historically-linked nations:

Mr Ainsworth took the unprecedented step of publicly criticising the US President and his delays in sending more troops to bolster the mission against the Taliban.

A “period of hiatus” in Washington – and a lack of clear direction – had made it harder for ministers to persuade the British public to go on backing the Afghan mission in the face of a rising death toll, he said.

Senior British Government sources have become increasingly frustrated with Mr Obama’s “dithering” on Afghanistan, the Daily Telegraph disclosed earlier this month, with several former British defence chiefs echoing the concerns.

But Mr Ainsworth is the first Government minister to express in public what amounts to personal criticism of the US president’s leadership over the conflict which has so far cost 235 British lives. …

The Defence Secretary’s blunt remarks about the US threaten to strain further a transatlantic relationship already under pressure over the British release of the Lockerbie bomber and Mr Obama’s decision to snub Mr Brown at the United Nations in September.

I seem to recall how Obama promised to restore our standing in the world and repair our relationships with our allies. How’s that going?

Obama has repeatedly insulted the British since assuming office, first with refusing a joint press conference — protocol for decades when the British PM visits the US — and then with the botched gift exchange, and the snub mentioned by the Telegraph. Obama also dumped four Gitmo detainees in Bermuda without notifying the British government until it was a fait accompli, even though the British have responsibility for Bermudan security.  The snub at the UN was the last straw.  And even the Lockerbie issue, in which the British were clearly in the wrong, may have gone much differently had Obama not spent the last several months insulting the British.

The “period of hiatus” remark should really sting.  The Commander in Chief has back-burnered the decision on Afghanistan for months while British soldiers fight and die for a war in which they’ve accepted American leadership.  Watching Obama take his sightseeing trip to Asia while the question of American direction remained unsolved — and for no other purpose than to do meet and greets — has to particularly rankle the Brown government as it attempts to explain that the war is actually more important than the Obama White House makes it seem.

This goes beyond war leadership.  It shows the disaster that Obama has made out of American foreign policy — a disaster so obvious that even Newsweek has begun to admit it:

Well, not only are things not getting fixed, they may be getting more broken. What was justly considered Bush’s mess in all these places is rapidly becoming Obama’s mess. In the Mideast, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears to have outmaneuvered Obama, forcing him to retreat publicly from a call to freeze settlements. Iran has so completely spurned Obama that the president’s careful and patient call for diplomacy and avoidance of sanctions is beginning to look like appeasement. And in Afghanistan, while a decision on troop deployments appears imminent, the public display of mixed signals by senior military and U.S. officials over many months has created a dangerous power vacuum, further undermining America’s already low credibility. …

The one hope for forward movement on all these issues may be to rethink them entirely—not just the strategy but the personnel, too. That’s not to say Holbrooke, Mitchell, and Co. should go, but their efforts should be subordinated to higher-level engagement, especially from Clinton. The secretary of state must play a much more active role on a regular basis; only Clinton, apart from Obama himself, has the necessary political star power, acumen, and gravitas to make a difference. It’s clear that she can no longer afford to allow herself to remain at a strategic distance or to be sidetracked on women’s issues, only occasionally parachuting in for ill-briefed appearances as she did in the Mideast.

Second, the Obamaites should reconsider the premises of what they’re doing on all fronts: it may be wise to reverse field entirely on a number of issues. For example, with additional troops likely to be deployed to Afghanistan soon, it may be wise to seek to negotiate with the Taliban, which we are not doing. At the same time it may be better policy not to negotiate with Tehran, as we are now doing. The West should consider new ways to isolate the discredited regime in Iran and find fresh methods of encouraging the still-insurgent election dissidents.

In other words, that Bush foreign policy and leadership is looking better and better, given the “smart power” alternative we’ve seen in 2009. We’ve had a “period of hiatus” in pursuing American interests, and the man at the top still doesn’t seem terribly engaged yet on them. And if our closest allies have begun to speak out about it publicly, what do you think our enemies make of the situation?