Saturday, October 28, 2017

The special relationship unmasked

Alex Izza,

As Great Britain struggles to tie itself closer to the US after the Brexit vote, is the ‘special relationship’ still up to the test?

Image from article, with caption: President Trump Meets with PM Theresa May at The White House.

The term “special relationship” was first publicly used by Winston Churchill in 1946 in a speech in Fulton, Missouri. ...

Yet the special relationship’s deeper origins lie in the course of WWII, Andrew Preston, professor of American history and expert on US national security at the University of Cambridge, told the World Weekly. Facing an Axis-controlled continental Europe, “Britain needed the Americans to be an ally in WWII.” Building a sense of shared democratic values and common cause with his American counterpart President Roosevelt allowed Great Britain to “punch above its weight politically by attaching itself to American power.”

In one sense, the “special relationship” has a very real existence in the affairs of both countries. Along with a shared history going back to the 16th century, the “perception of the publics” is of two cultures inextricably bound together, says Nicholas Cull, professor of public diplomacy at the University of Southern California.

Beyond the cultural realm, the special relationship “has a long and easily demonstrable reality in Anglo-American governmental cooperation especially in the field of military and intelligence cooperation,” Professor Cull told TWW. ...

When interviewed immediately after Mr. Trump’s victory, Nigel Farage (ex-head of the UK Independence Party and leading Leave campaigner) lauded the arrival of President Trump, as he “loves our country, what we stand for and our culture.” Through this logic, Mr. Farage argued, Mr. Trump’s cultural affinity for Great Britain would encourage a “trade deal with the United States”.

Professor Preston sees this as a recurrent problem, British policymakers believing “their soft power plays an important role in trade and policy discussions” with Washington.

When British politicians speak in the US, they use the “special relationship” as an anchor to build an image of equal power with the United States. During Prime Minister May’s speech to the Congressional Institute in Virginia in January 2017, she used the phrase “special” nine times as she presented the “leadership” of Great Britain and America as having “made the modern world.”

American politicians make a subtly different nod to this bond. President Barack Obama’s speech at Westminster Hall in London in 2011 was filled with mentions of the shared democratic heritage of the two countries. However, he then moved the discussion to global concerns, lauding how in the war in Afghanistan “you, the British people, have been a stalwart ally, along with so many others who fight by our side”. In this manner, the “special relationship” became one among many.

This is the “double-edged sword” of the special relationship, says Professor Preston. The UK created the idea to benefit from Washington’s unprecedented global power. But in turn, he adds, it bred a self-imposed lie, masking behind language of two equal nations the fact that the UK relies far more on the US than the US does on the UK. ...

A recent Guardian poll found that 50% of respondents thought Donald Trump was “dangerous,” whilst an equal percentage also named the US as the UK’s most important ally. Unsure who to turn to after Brexit, 40% agreed that “Brexit means we have no choice but to keep strong ties with the USA.”

Indeed, the UK government’s warm relations with the Trump administration are matched by anti-American scars from the Iraq War in the opposition Labour Party, fanned by its leader Jeremy Corbyn. In a 2015 speech he told the Cambridge Union that “the American century has definitely been bad for the world.” If these views became policy in an increasingly likely future premiership, US-UK relations face an ever more uncertain future.

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