It is always amusing to see ideology blind people to reality.
A recent example of this has been the reaction of the British Parliamentary establishment and the UK mainstream media to Prime Minister Theresa May’s visit to Washington D.C. to meet with President Trump.
It seems that the old hands in Whitehall and Fleet Street think they can do something that thus far the Democratic Party, much of the Republican Party, the CIA, the NSA, the Pentagon, and China, have been unable to do, which is pressure Donald Trump to change his mind.
It borders on the surreal to see a Britain whose establishment happily volunteered to become the 51st state under Tony Blair, suddenly realise that an iceberg filled ocean separates the two countries. Now though ‘Britain must guide Trump’. This after it turns out that Britain cannot even fire its own Trident missiles.
Whereas Britain and Europe have points where both sides can strike mutually beneficial bargains, Britain’s relationship with the US is completely one sided because of the overriding economic and military realities. The legal, financial and to a degree even judicial cultures in Britain and America are so similar, that it necessarily disadvantages the junior partner.
To use an analogy from the world of motoring, a Mercedes A-class and S-class both come from the same stable, but the S class is bigger and more powerful, and always will be.
Of course, all nations ought to have as many partners and allies as possible. This is the constant refrain of Donald Trump when castigated for his apparent desire to improve relations with the Russian Federation, relations which deteriorated to the brink of war under Obama. So of course, it is only logical for Britain and the US to be close partners, hopefully in trade and anti-terrorism rather than in aggressive war making, as was the case in Yugoslavia (1999), Iraq (2003), Libya (2011) and in the current proxy war in Syria.
But the idea that Britain can lecture the US, especially under the single minded leadership of President Trump, is simply arrogant.
In the 1970s there was a slogan, ‘a place for everybody and everybody in their place’.
This represented the synthesis of equality with the fundamental principles of an ordered society. Wild idealism simply does not fit into this equation.
In post-war history, Britain has gone through several phrases in its relations with the US. Some have been vastly more successful than others.
–Acting bigger than one is:
A milestone example of this was when Britain (along with France and Israel) declared war on Egypt in 1956 over Nasser’s nationalisation of the Suez Canal. Here the US acting with fellow super-power the Soviet Union, put a sharp halt to Britain’s joint military action. It was clear who was in charge of geopolitics in the latter half of the 20th century from then on, and it was not Britain.
–Maintaining an independent line on foreign adventures whilst maintaining full diplomatic relations:
The perfect example of this was Harold Wilson’s refusal to participate in the US’s war in Vietnam. Many in the Pentagon simply expected Britain to go along with the US’s failed policy in Vietnam, but Wilson, however compromised he became as a domestic political figure in his final period of power, nonetheless remained committed to keeping Britain out of war.
It was not only a proud moment for Britain, but objectively, it was the correct decision.
This of course was best exemplified by Tony Blair who sat by his phone salivating for the news of which war he could next follow the US into. Bad for Britain, bad for the world.
–Different interests, similar goals.
This idea was best embodied by the policies of Reagan and Thatcher, two politicians I do not admire, but whose relationship demonstrates a kind of third way between Anthony Eden’s Suez adventure and Blair’s poodle like behaviour.
In the 1980s, the US was reluctant to support Britain’s Falklands/Malvinas War as South America had generally been the CIA’s de facto incubator for friendly far-right dictatorships. Likewise, Ronald Reagan’s intervention in Granada was seen as an affront to Britain, as the US was seen to be bullying a member of the British Commonwealth.
Ultimately, the US didn’t stop Britain from making war on Argentina, and Britain did not stop the US from invading Granada.
In terms of international relations, a hybrid between the Wilson model and the Reagan/Thatcher model is the best precedent for the two states. A ‘do as you will, according to your own interests’ attitude, that doesn’t impact on crucial areas like trade.
Britain has no more right to tell Donald Trump what to do than any other country. Because countries like China are far more important to the US’s future than Britain, Westminster has even less of a leg to stand on.
The junior partner in the ‘special relationship’ (whatever that actually means), ought to scrap the ideological overtones and get on with trade and other more mundane areas of friendship.
Whether Britain wants to ape Merkel’s open door policy or Trump wants to shut America’s borders completely is not a matter of mutual concern, nor is it an area where meddling is welcome from either side.