Friday, January 16, 2009

Not so Special

Ian Williams:
They’re changing the guard at the White House
January 17, 2009 Tribune, London

AS THE world sighs with relief that George W Bush is finally stepping down, one wonders what it will mean for the famous “special relationship”. Overall, it has been one of the longest episodes of unrequited love in history – and perhaps no more so in Britain than under “new” Labour.

But when American politicians talk about special relationships or “our closest ally”, they are not referring to the United States’ unsinkable aircraft carrier, the country which bankrupted itself in two world wars, was on the front line in Korea and standing side by side with it in Afghanistan and Iraq.

No, they are talking about Israel, the special ally from whom they tolerate spying, sinking of ships such as the USS Liberty, and for whom they have been regularly prepared to alienate the rest of the world.

The Anglo-American “special relationship” has always existed more in the eyes of British ministers than in the facts on the ground. Winston Churchill saw the British Empire dismembered and its Treasury looted by Franklin D Roosevelt even as he whispered sweet nothings to the American President. Churchill complained: “We are not only to be skinned, but flayed to the bone”, about the American financial terms. And FDR was the nice one!

The 1945 Labour Government constructed Nato with self-interest in mind, reportedly to “keep the Germans down, the Russians out and the Americans in”. Even so, confronted with American duplicity on nuclear research and callousness on credits that almost led to economic collapse, Clement Attlee’s Government decided to build a British nuclear bomb. Despite all their protestations of undying alliances, they knew that Washington would use Britain when it was convenient and then toss it aside like a used condom afterwards.

With a genuine Soviet threat in Europe, there was some pragmatic justification for swallowing it and maintaining the pretence of a special relationship, but the one time that it was the closest to reality was between Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Apart from Tony Blair and his acolytes, not many of us remember this as Britain’s finest hour.

However, whatever you think of the Iron Lady, there was no “Yo Maggie” business from Ron, none of the genial contempt that Bush used for Blair. On issues such as the Middle East and defending British companies against US attempts to extent its legislation extra-territorially, Thatcher was quite willing to stand up to Washington. It is worth remembering that she had to. If it were not for her seductive charms with Reagan, the US conservative establishment would have supported the Argentinean junta and its invasion of the Falklands Islands over Thatcher and the “mother country”.

The lesson of Israel is that a squeaky wheel gets the grease – by the bucketful – while those who lie down uncomplainingly looking at the ceiling and thinking of shared values get screwed.

Gordon Brown has allowed a sliver of daylight to appear between himself and the deserter-in-chief across the water. No “Yo Gordies” are recorded. In any case, surely British foreign policy is now due for a reappraisal? The Germans maybe up for it and friendly, the Russians are played out, and the Americans on the verge of being an economic basket case.

It will behove Brown to start making up to President Obama as fast and furiously as possible. The scale of the recovery programmes under consideration are bound to have repercussions for Britain and Europe. Co-ordination is desirable and essential.

However, the myth of the special relationship lulls British leaders into thinking a quick call to the American President and an occasional royal visit is all that is necessary. Israel and other countries do not make that mistake. They work the lobbies of the US Congress to get results. If Britain wants any type of meaningful relationship, it needs to connect to the sordid reality.

Brown has to abandon his underlying Euroscepticism. There may be pragmatic grounds, for example, for staying out the euro, but the plunging pound suggests it is time to reconsider his undeclared tacit blanket rejection. Above all, in the European Union, Britain has a genuine stature and role to play in shaping the future in an economy that aims to be far more resilient and successful in protecting its citizens than the US. Look to Iceland for the alternative.

In fact, for decades, friendly American leaders, a little embarrassed perhaps by the faithful partner they have so often mistreated, have been advising Britain to involve itself more in the EU. British leaders, so sadly and slavishly prepared to follow the American lead in almost every other way, no matter how self-evidently disastrous, have baulked at taking this advice.

I remember with nostalgia the early days of this Labour Government, with Robin Cook, Claire Short and others. Even under the Tories, Britain’s standing was surprising high in the United Nations as a good global citizen and in the early days of Blair’s Government it bounced even higher. Alas, total subservience to Washington soon destroyed much of that. A declaration of independence would go a long way to restore beneficial British influence around the world – and in Washington.

1 comment:

BlairSupporter said...

WAKE UP out of your media brainwashed state.

There was no "Yo, Blair" either.

It was "Yeah, Blair".

Go and see and hear for yourself, if your critical faculties haven't already deserted you.

President Bush might have said a few less than polite things about Kofi Annan and his language was rather ripe in places, but it was NOT "Yo, Blair".

Got it?

By the way, did you notice the international troops suggestion into the Lebanon area and WHO suggested it?