Monday, April 13, 2015

U.S. & U.K. - Is It Over?

So, here’s the story as I heard it; the Daily Mail says that The Mail on Sunday found a secret memo to the United States Congress from the Congressional Research Service’s chief European affairs analyst saying that the time of the “special relationship” between America and Great Britain may be over and that Great Britain simply may no longer be “centrally relevant” to the United States with the rise of new powers and power blocs around the world. Seeing this, and some of the reaction to this news, has frankly left me wondering how I should really feel about it. It has played upon some doubts and troubled thoughts I have been having for quite some time about my entire operation here. One thing that does seem certain is that the “special relationship” does not seem to be understood by either side. After seeing what Britons and Americans had to say on the subject, neither seemed to have a full grasp of the facts. Some of this is connected to issues fairly recently discussed here about Britain in the last world war.

For example, I noticed that Britons tended to speak of the “special relationship” as if it were some sort of sinister code-phrase for American domination of Great Britain. In fact, it was the British who came up with the concept, starting with Winston Churchill, and it has been most often spoken of by British prime ministers rather than American presidents. I suspect this attitude is mostly due to the fact that the decline of British power in the world coincided with the rise of American power, causing the paranoid to think that there must have been some conspiracy involved. In fact, as we discussed here in January, this came about for the simple reason that British leaders in 1939 chose to enter a war they could not hope to win on their own. This changed who occupied the top spot in world affairs and, given the available options, Britain preferred American leadership to Bolshevik leadership. Then, after the conflict, a socialist government was elected that decided it was better to have a welfare state than an empire. Naturally, with the break-up of the empire, British influence around the world declined. No one can claim to be deceived in this process as President Roosevelt made it clear from day one that his government was prepared to assist in the defense of the British Isles but had no intention of fighting to preserve the British Empire which Roosevelt stated openly that he opposed.

American historians have noted that U.S. support for Britain retaining Malaysia after the war went against Roosevelt’s Atlantic Charter but was undertaken because of the recognized threat of communist expansion. The U.S. sent arms and intervened to urge Thailand to support the British-led war in Malaysia (Thailand was then on friendlier terms with America than Britain as Britain had declared war on Thailand in World War II whereas the United States had not). There were also considerable loans and grants from the U.S. to the U.K. to help the country recover economically. As part of the “Program of Assistance for the General Area of China” the U.S. sent $5 million to the Malay states specifically to aid in fending off the communist threat. But, American support for the British empire in opposition to communist insurgencies or independence movements was undercut by the lack of real resolve in Britain itself to maintain the empire. Anti-colonialism was the popular thing and the mostly left-of-center governments in both Britain and America did not want to be seen as fighting to uphold colonialism. When the Suez Crisis came, the United States backed Egyptian independence rather than Britain and France, a move that President Eisenhower would later admit was the biggest mistake of his administration.

The succeeding Kennedy administration took a more strident anti-European line across the board, from Africa to Indonesia and so it was no great surprise when things began to get rough in Vietnam, the British refused to participate. The days of Anglo-American solidarity in World War II and Korea seemed to be over. Yet, the two countries would cooperate again on other fronts but while governments pledge friendship the people seem to cling to acrimony, or the reverse. Britons, for example, frequently complain of being “dragged” into “America’s wars” while America did nothing to aid Britain during the Falklands War (which is not true, America did support the UK in the Falklands War and was prepared to do more if it proved necessary). Most Americans don’t give it much thought but those who do tend to be confused by this reaction. To the general public, it did not seem that Britain needed any help with Argentina and when the Reagan administration took action to stop the communist invasion of Grenada and set again at liberty the Queen’s representative, Britons tended to respond with anger that they had not been consulted in the matter which in turn caused American frustration by those who thought they were doing the U.K. a favor with the operation. Likewise, in the build-up to the first Iraq War, Britain had more interest in the region than America did and it was British PM Thatcher, who was in America when Iraq invaded Kuwait, who showed more ferocity than President George H.W. Bush, urging him to use American forces to expel the Iraqis.

However, it is clear that most of this seems to always boil down to the ever-unpopular Second Gulf War, the consequences of which are still being dealt with today. From what I have seen, the British public still tends to view this as an American war they were dragged into against their will. Americans, on the other hand, look at the huge and multiple electoral victories of Tony Blair in the U.K. and wonder how his decisions could possibly be placed at their door. Britain contributed more than any other ally but was, necessarily, a drop in the bucket compared to the U.S. commitment and British troops were used in defensive roles only, basically holding ground already taken to free up American troops for offensive operations. Similarly, after Tony Blair’s speech to a joint session of Congress, many Americans thought he had presented a more zealous defense of the Iraq war than the American president ever had. Indeed, many Democrats were furious at their fellow leftist for making such an eloquent defense of a war they (by then) opposed. It certainly did not seem, on the American side of the Atlantic, like the U.K. was an unwilling hostage to an all-American war.

To some extent though, going over such details is rather pointless as the democratic nature of both the U.S. and U.K. means that almost nothing these days is considered “national” policy but rather “government” policy with factions on each side shifting according to their own interests with no clear consensus on what is in the national interest. New administrations take different positions, some American presidents being more pro-British, others noticeably less so and the same for British prime ministers, with some being very supportive of the U.S. and others less so. There is also no lock-step unity, despite the democratic process, between governments and the public. Britain, which in social and economic policies tends to be much further to the left than the United States, has tended to dislike Republican administrations and favor Democrats. President George W. Bush was widely despised in Britain and the election of Barack Obama was cheered, in spite of the fact that, in America at least, Bush seemed almost gushingly pro-British and Obama noticeably cold if not borderlined antagonistic towards Britain.

Politics has most blatantly crept into American foreign policy on both the left and the right. The only consistency is that Democrats oppose whatever a Republic president does and Republicans oppose whatever a Democrat president does even if their own side previously did the exact same thing. This has led to some downright laughable scenes when President Obama has “dithered” on foreign policy issues which in turn caused Republicans to fume and sometimes back-peddle as they didn’t know what to be against since Obama was not making a decision. When Obama was staying out of Libya, they demanded that he intervene and when he did intervene they condemned him for making things worse. The same happened in Syria, Republicans criticized Obama for meddling and saber-rattling with his “red line” speech and then later condemned him for not making good on his threats and sending support to the Syrian rebels. Looking at Great Britain and the conservative opposition to American policies in the Middle East in particular, I have to wonder if their position would be the same were it not for the fact that Tony Blair happened to be in office at the time those decisions were made. Surely it was a gift from Heaven for the Tories that Blair was on duty when Britain became involved in a war that proved so widely unpopular. They are then placed in the awkward position of arguing for more support for the British armed forces while seemingly being opposed to them ever actually doing anything. It makes little sense that while the British public votes for more entitlements, keeping the NHS sacrosanct and so cutting the military down to absolute minimum so that the commanders of the armed forces have said that the U.K. is currently incapable of military action to then spurn the alliance Britain has with the most militarily powerful country in the world.

The people in power, to some extent in both major parties (as is common around the world) realize that there are bad people with bad intentions out there and so it is better for Britain to be a friend of America rather than an enemy. The public, however, has no such knowledge and no such worries. From what I have seen, most Britons do not think their country benefits from a “special relationship” with America and most Americans do not see any gain from it either. Are the masses ill-informed or is it truly useless? I must confess I have begun to doubt and re-think my own position on this issue since late last year. Previously, my view was always one that favored a strong alliance and Anglo-American friendship. My example was the late, great, King George III who famously said that he was the last to agree to America’s separation from the British Empire but, the separation having occurred, would be the first to welcome friendly relations with the new country. The only time subsequently that Britain and America came to blows, it almost lead to the break-up of the United States due to the large numbers of people who so adamantly opposed hostilities with Britain. In both world wars the United States gave considerable support to Great Britain long before actually joining the conflict. Afterwards, despite occasional tensions, both countries were partners in the Cold War against communist expansion and have cooperated in the “War on Terror”, in each case not without opposition from certain sections of society. Have things changed?

Before late last year I would have said that the “special relationship” should be preserved and strengthened as part of my desire for overall greater solidarity throughout the English-speaking world, among all the countries of the former British Empire. Today, however, I am more hesitant on the subject and have been reflecting a great deal on whether Anglo-American friendship is something worth pursuing. The British public, from what I have seen, seems to oppose it and the American public does not see where it has been of any benefit. Most, in my experience, would prefer it to continue but would not consider it a great loss if it did not. Both sides of the American political spectrum have their criticisms of Great Britain (the Democrats for what Britain used to be and the Republicans for what Britain has become) just as there is no shortage of criticism from Britain about America, seemingly no matter which party is in power, no matter if the subject is past or present. It is part of an overall questioning I have had about the attitude of the United States towards monarchies around the world.

As I have pointed out before, there is scarcely a single monarchy in the world that is not currently under the protection of or allied with the United States. In almost every case this is the result of policies set in place decades ago and maintained regardless of the governments in power, something based on national interest. However, I have been made very aware of just how many monarchists viscerally oppose the United States and would condemn all of the monarchies of the world, even their own, at least in regard to this one relationship. I have had to consider then whether or not I have wasted a great many years trying to impress upon Americans the value of monarchy and encouraging friendship with the monarchies of the world. Given the attitudes I have seen and the sentiments of a great many people on the subject, I have to wonder if this was not totally incorrect and perhaps monarchists would be more supportive of their own national institutions if America opposed rather than supported them. In the case at issue today, it then ceases to be a question of whether or not there is a “special relationship” between Britain and America (as some deny it) but rather whether there should be at all.

Personally, I prefer friendship and goodwill, I look forward to royal visits to the United States by British monarchs and other family members but if that goodwill does not genuinely exist, I would have to set my own preferences aside for the good of the monarchist cause. If the United States abandoned the monarchies of Europe protected by NATO, it would certainly make for better Russo-American relations and if the United States dropped its alliance with Japan, Sino-American relations would improve dramatically. Likewise, if the U.S. refused to lend any further support to the monarchies of the Middle East, Obama would have a much easier time achieving his goal of restoring relations with Iran. Would all of that be good for the cause of monarchy in the world? I don’t see how, but as so many seem to think it somehow would, I must consider that I may be the one in the wrong. Should the “special relationship” continue? At this point, I want to say “yes” but am increasingly at a loss for a way to justify it.


  1. "For example, I noticed that Britons tended to speak of the “special relationship” as if it were some sort of sinister code-phrase for American domination of Great Britain. In fact, it was the British who came up with the concept, starting with Winston Churchill, and it has been most often spoken of by British prime ministers rather than American presidents."

    Oh, most British people are aware of the origins of the phrase "special relationship," and keenly aware that our prime ministers use it more often than American leaders. From what I can tell, the general view over here is actually more that the phrase is a buzzword used by British prime ministers to promote the idea that we're still relevant and important and to justify what is seen, rightly or wrongly, as slavish devotion to America's foreign policy on the part of British governments. Ultimately a great deal of the blame for incidents such as the Iraq War is rightly placed on our own governments for following America's lead (and in the case of the Blair creature, gleefully urging them on) in spite of public opposition (which is always retrospectively made to seem more significant than it really was before everything went wrong). Incidentally Blair is, from my perspective, the most hated figure in British politics since Baroness Thatcher, except that the hatred for Thatcher came from only one side of the political divide. I've never actually met anyone who doesn't hate Blair after his last term.

    I agree with you that it's odd that the British public fawn on Obama in spite of the thinly-veiled animosity of his administration towards the UK. Ultimately I think it comes down to his status as the first black president of the US in a world where doing anything as a member of an ethnic minority is seen as more impressive, and the fact that the US political system is so far to the right of ours (for a given value of "right-wing," although I've often argued that economics notwithstanding, with our hereditary monarchy, established church and aristocracy the UK is actually more right-wing in a traditional sense than the US) that even hardline British Conservatives see the Republicans as crazy radicals who shouldn't be allowed to run with scissors, let alone run a country.

    For my part I've always been fervently anti-American and strongly resented America's influence on all walks of life. Your posts on the matter, however, have helped make me think in more depth about America's influence and forced me to take a more nuanced view of the US and the role it has played in history, as well as the role it continues to play in the world. So thank you, MM, but please pass on to your countrymen that we really, really don't like it when they tell us that'd we'd all be speaking German if it weren't for them.

    1. "slavish devotion to America's foreign policy on the part of British governments" How so? Most Americans are baffled by this attitude I can tell you. When Obama wanted to bomb Syria, Britain was the first to say "no" (and I think doing so encouraged the U.S. Congress to do the same). The (now previous) boycott of Cuba by the U.S. was something Britain refused to participate in, Britain refused to go along with America's policy toward Iran in the early days, Britain said "no" to fighting communists in Vietnam. The ordinary people on this side of the pond just don't see Britain as being slavishly devoted to American policy.

      I myself think the same thing when I hear (as I have) British complaints about being dragged into "America's wars". What could these be? Iraq, Thatcher pushed for the first one and Blair seemed very enthusiastic about the second. Afghanistan? In the United States, most thought, and still do, that it was obvious that the Islamic terrorists were a threat to everyone and there was the added addition of the NATO treaty. The USA supplies about 75% of NATO's military forces and economic support, the country was attacked, 3,000 people were killed and the NATO treaty applied -or so most here thought. Most Americans don't see NATO as being of much use today but, for those who think about it, the background was one more to the benefit of Europe. That's where the Soviet threat sat right across the border and the US set it up to protect western Europe from Soviet attack. Moreover, true or not, the European/British complaints about Afghanistan (a war Americans are weary of beyond words I can tell you), it is usually taken as being in-line with leftist line that the Muslims were driven to attack us because of U.S. support for Israel and the legacy of British & French imperialism in the region -which tends to confuse as well as annoy people.

      The problem I run into is that the biggest area where I think American policy was damaging and despicable was in failing to better support the British Empire is one area where most modern Britons think they themselves were in the wrong. I have wondered if the anti-American vitriol comes from deep in the back of British brains by people who are really upset about the loss of the empire but have been programmed against defending the empire and so have to come up with excuses for their feelings that don't make much sense. All of the things I think the USA has done wrong in regards to Britain are things most Britons today would consider politically incorrect to complain about, from the Fenian Raids on Canada to the Suez Canal Crisis.

      I completely agree about Britain being left or right compared to America. I said that in "social and economic" policies, the UK is to the left of the US. So, gay "marriage" is more prevalent in Britain than America, legalized abortion has little to no opposition in Britain and socialist economic policies are much more prevalent. The NHS is a sacred cow in Britain whereas Obama's first step in just the general direction of socialized healthcare caused a huge uproar and the GOP takeover of Congress. But, certainly, with the monarchy, aristocracy and established church (though no one attends it) places Britain more to the right. To go off course a bit, I think the nature of the birth of the USA placed America to the left of Britain from the outset. However, since that time, Britain has moved farther to the left than America while retaining the basic, traditional foundations of the country from the days when it was farther right. If that makes sense.

    2. ...and...

      Telling people "you'd be speaking German now if it wasn't for us" is not something I thought was often directed at Britain. Everyone I know who has said that were usually saying it to the French. It's certainly not very tactful. Were I to guess, I would imagine it comes about because of how World War II is the "good" war and almost everyone on earth agrees that the Allies were good and the Axis were bad, so whenever there is a dispute, everyone runs back to that as their "safe" place.

  2. MadMonarchist, my good sir, another fine essay from you, thank you! I however sense a certain despondency with this article on our Anglo-American relations in you, that from a spiritual angle may perhaps be unwarranted. People in America, and myself certainly, are sick of the Republic, lacking only the vision to take that next fateful step... Britain, as attenuated as the traditional institutions are in reality, still exist, and so offer to an revolution-exhausted Anglo-America a chance to 'return home' someday...Am I right, or am I wrong? I think we must continue the special relationship between England and her former Colonies.

    1. Yes and no I would have to say. To 'return home' is impossible in the fullest sense as there is no more British Empire to return to. Likewise, I don't see America ever discarding the War of Independence, people just don't admit mistakes on that scale. However, I don't think it's really necessary. I do think joining the Commonwealth or a special alliance of English-speaking countries is not beyond the realm of possibility. There are still ties that bind. However, I think Britain is more popular in America than America is in Britain.

      This is a distinction from others, probably due to great-power envy (something the UK itself was the victim of in the past). In Canada and Australia, for example, the reverse seems to be the problem. Those countries, in my experience, are highly regarded in Britain but Britain is not so highly regarded in Canada or Australia (particularly Australia). That is what troubles me, it being very difficult to convince people to have closer ties of friendship with a people who do not seem to want it.

      Were that different, I think closer ties could be possible. Our militaries work more closely together than any others -our navies are especially close and the training of Prince Harry on Apache gunships here are examples of this. Americans also still tend to see the British Royal Family as "our" Royal Family even if they don't admit it. When you talk about "the Queen" in America, no one asks which one you are referring to, it is assumed that by "the Queen" you mean Queen Elizabeth II. Not a few Britons have said Americans take the monarchy more seriously than they do themselves.

  3. For those who are interested, this is the Conclusion of the Congressional Research Service Report in question:

    "Most analysts agree that the U.S.-UK political relationship is likely to remain close; that the “special relationship” will remain strong on many vital issues in which the UK is a crucial U.S. ally; and that the two countries will remain key economic partners. Observers also assert that the main dimensions of the U.S.-UK relationship are deep and enduring in that they go beyond the personal dynamics of individual leaders and are not subject to sudden moves or policy shifts by either country. Analysts observe that many concerns and assertions about an impending break-up of the “special relationship” tend to be exaggerations.

    "Nevertheless, many analysts believe that some reassessment of the “special relationship” may be in order. Despite its dominant themes of continuity, the relationship is changing primarily because its geopolitical setting has been changing. The U.S.-UK relationship often remains uniquely close and capable of projecting a considerable degree of power and influence, but there are questions about whether the relative influence and centrality of the relationship is facing a decline. Both countries have sought to adjust their foreign policy approaches to deal with new global challenges and emergent geopolitical trends that are often perceived as the “rise of new powers” or the diffusion of power away from “the West.” In many cases, responses to global challenges continue to reinforce not only the relevance of U.S.-UK cooperation, but the still-frequent role played by the two countries working together to drive international action. In an increasingly “G-20 world,” however, the UK may not be viewed as centrally relevant to the United States in all of the issues and relations considered a priority on the U.S. agenda.

    "Similar to the United States, the key long-term foreign policy challenges for the UK are likely to revolve around how to define its relationships with emerging powers; how to maintain global influence and relevant capabilities given limited resources; and how to maximize existing partnerships and multilateral frameworks (including NATO, the EU, and the United Nations). Meanwhile, many observers assert that a significant degree of the UK’s international influence flows from the success and dynamism of the British economy, further raising the stakes on whether the UK can sustain stronger economic growth while continuing to pursue ambitious fiscal consolidation.

    "The management of the UK’s relations with the EU will also bear watching over the next several years. Some analysts argue that life on the margins of an EU more integrated around the Eurozone need not be disastrous for the UK. Both the positive and the negative aspects of a prospective life outside the EU are more difficult to foresee. Envisioning an EU without the UK, many analysts observe that British participation is widely regarded as essential for efforts to develop more robust EU foreign and defense policies. Analysts also assert that the departure of the UK could change the economic character of the EU because the UK generally acts as a leading voice for economic liberalism in EU debates about trade and the single market.

    "As has been reportedly expressed in conversations between President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron and related bilateral discussions between U.S. and UK officials, these considerations are of central interest to U.S. policymakers who are concerned about a potential UK departure from the EU. With the UK commonly regarded as the strongest U.S. partner in Europe and a partner that commonly shares U.S. views, senior Administration officials have reportedly conveyed their concerns that a UK break from the EU would reduce U.S. influence in Europe, weaken the EU’s position on free trade, and make the EU a less reliable partner on security and defense issues.

    Derek E. Mix
    Analyst in European Affairs
    March 27, 2015

    1. Yes, the content of the report was not finally the point, at least as far as I'm concerned. President Obama would doubtless say the same thing, even though, in my view, he has been noticeably "cool" at least toward the UK. I'm more concerned with the trends in public opinion which seems to be having an impact in both countries -a Eurocentric view amongst the major parties in Britain and rising support in America for drawing back from existing alliances and getting friendlier with powers which are hostile to or directly threaten the monarchies of the world.

  4. There's an indifference growing towards Britain because of changing demography. You either have a same-kin, ethnically loyal people who values their roots and traditions, or given what cosmopolitanism/diversity/multiculturalism means today, Britain is just another one of nearly 200 countries on the planet which gave birth to America, and thus money, not tradition, becomes the principal concern.


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