Special relationship crucial for US strategic interests

President Obama's visit comes after a complex week of repositioning on the Middle East in general and tense exchanges with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in particular.

Middle East peace is the Holy Grail of foreign policy for American presidents: pursued, without success, by every single one since Jimmy Carter. After killing Osama bin Laden and the Arab Spring developments, the president and his advisers are betting that maybe, this time, the time is right to bring Palestinians and Israelis to a lasting and permanent peace settlement. Such success would seal Mr Obama's place in the history books.

The president's recent focus on the Middle East shows how American strategic interests lie well outside Europe. It also underlines the crucial importance of the "special relationship", and European partners, for achieving those goals. Doubtless Mr Obama will press leaders at the G8 summit to avoid voting for Palestinian statehood when the UN meets in September, a move American diplomats think would make the peace process more difficult.

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Mr Obama will also lobby those leaders to pledge greater financial support to Egypt and other countries undergoing democratic transitions.

When Mr Obama meets David Cameron today, Libya is sure to be on the agenda: but perhaps not in the way that either leader would have predicted in 2009. Fallout from Kenny MacAskill's decision to release the Lockerbie bomber from jail marked a low point in the attempts to re-set the "special relationship" post-Iraq war. Yet it seems a distant memory now the UK and US are jointly engaged in military air strikes there. Moreover, American involvement could not have happened if not for British and European leadership on the need to intervene in Libya. To an American public weary of war, the legitimacy gained through global support made an otherwise unpalatable suggestion acceptable.

In this we may see the shape of things yet to come. American presidents will choose their foreign policy goals based on American interests, but only those interests which are shared - and legitimised - by other nations can have some hope of both political support at home and success abroad.

• Dr Elizabeth Super, originally from Massachusetts, lectures on US foreign policy at Edinburgh University and specialises in American and comparative politics.