Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The U.K.-American 'Special Relationship' Is Burned Toast (Without Marmalade)

Ten years after the end of the 20th century, the perception persists that Britain's ruling class still consists of a bunch of bewigged and stuffed shirted gentlemen who while away the days mourning for their long lost empire and tut-tutting about the depredations of the new world order.

While this perception is unfair to a certain extent, it is omnipresent in the current row across the pond about whether the "special relationship" between Britain and the U.S. forged by Winston Churchill and FDR has run its course.

The mini-tempest was set off by Sir David Manning, who served as the British
ambassador to Washington for four of the eight years of the Bush administration. Manning recently warned members of Parliament that President Obama was "less sentimental" about American links with Britain, having been born in Hawaii to a Kenyan father and brought up partly in Indonesia.

Forgetting for the moment that Obama is an astute student of history, which Bush was not, and overlooking the veiled racism in Manning's warning, what he really was saying was that the gauzy romanticism of the special relationship took a dart to the heart when Bush famously used former Prime Minister Tony Blair as his poodle in the run-up to the Iraq war. As a consequence, Britain's global image, like the U.S.'s, took a beating from which it has not yet recovered.

The subtext is that Blair, who was turned out of office, should have been a little more concerned about the will of his own party and the British people.

The special relationship, which flourished as recently as the Margaret Thatcher-Ronald Reagan era, has rested on the idea that the two largest English-speaking countries have an historic bond that elevates their relationship to a special level.

Manning's warning was heeded by a bi-partisan select committee on foreign affairs.

"The use of the phrase 'the special relationship' in its historical sense, to describe the totality of the ever-evolving UK-US relationship, is potentially misleading, and we recommend that its use should be avoided," the MPs concluded. "The overuse of the phrase by some politicians and many in the media serves simultaneously to devalue its meaning and to raise unrealistic expectations about the benefits the relationship can deliver to the UK."

My own view is stuffed shirt free: The U.S. saved Britain's ass in the darkest days of World War II while Britain did not return the favor when the Iraq saber rattling commenced in 2002. It is not inconceivable that had Blair refused to be leashed by Bush that the war would have never happened.

Yes, the relationship between 10 Downing Street and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will never return to the good old days, but the Brits and Yanks are growing closer together in other ways, notably the fusion of the cultures of the two nations, and that is jolly good.

Top photograph by Anthony Devlin/EPA

1 comment:

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