Global recession and global leadership
Watching Gordon Brown's speech at the Guildhall in the City of London, it revealed an unmistakable concern about the effect global recession might have on America's willingness to provide global leadership.
Naturally the PM did not want to spoil the feel good that has accompanied Barack Obama's election, which he described as a, "source of hope and inspiration", words which earned him the only spontaneous applause of his speech. President elect Obama also makes a natural political bedfellow for Mr Brown in that he shares the 'progressive' agendas extolled under the vaulted ceiling of the Guildhall.
There were however repeated warnings against isolationism, and references to the Great Depression of the 1930s. Mr Brown said his "central argument" was that Britain or the EU and America "can and must provide leadership" in heading off the threat of a prolonged global slump. By why should he ever doubt it?
It is clear that some statements by the Obama team about protecting American jobs have touched a nerve in Downing Street. Mr Brown said the world must reject, "beggar thy neighbour protectionism", and alluded to the US experience of the 1930s. There is concern in British government circles that the new administration will not share this country's commitment to concluding a new global trade agreement.
There is a clear recognition in Whitehall too that as the recession bites, and unemployment rises, there will be considerable pressure on Senator Obama to put some flesh on the bones of certain protectionist campaign statements. Worries too are swirling about the diplomatic ether about the ability of the transition team to focus on such a broad range of issues at home and abroad.
If 9/11 defined President Bush's agenda - for better or worse - will an Obama presidency define itself by its response to the economic crisis ? Early indications are that it will, and who can blame them given the circumstances of the presidential election ? Early appointments and statements underline this largely domestic focus.
So alongside the things you might have expected the British prime minister to advocate, there were some the passages of the Guildhall speech that sounded like advice to the Obama team (and the wider community of democracies) not to throw out the baby (America's leadership role) with the Bush administration bathwater. Mr Brown therefore called for western countries to be "interventionist not isolationist", and to "reassert our faith in the advance of democracy as the most effective weapon in our arsenal against terrorism and tyranny".
With those phrases, Mr Brown showed that he still adheres to the underlying Bush Administration philosophy about global security - even if he might have questioned the outgoing administration's applications of some of those ideas. Hearing the prime minister put the case in those terms, one wonders whether the British government has real concerns whether the Obama administration will give proper emphasis to international security...