America and Britain’s Special Relationship

Has it Served the People? Not on your Nelly

The image that pops into my head when I think of “the special relationship” between the US and Britain is of Tony Blair and George Bush wearing tight jeans and windcheaters, walking towards the camera on George Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas.  The smirk on Tony Blair’s face projects an image of “Look at me, aren’t I great; I am next to the most powerful person on the planet, and we have just decided to pulverise Iraq”.

The British corporate media is obsessed with the “special relationship” and the “personal chemistry” between British prime ministers and American presidents. When the two meet, the body language and every gesture are nauseatingly analysed, seeking reassurance that Britain is still America’s best friend.  This clinginess is unhealthy; it leads to unquestioning acquiescence and deference to the senior partner, the US. Special relationships should mean being honest and frank, and saying things your special friend may not want to hear.  At least that is what I think it should be.

According to Wikipedia, the phrase “special relationship” was first used in 1946 by Winston Churchill to describe the close political, diplomatic, cultural and historical relationship between the US and Britain.  Tony Blair’s interpretation of it is that of grovelling sycophancy towards George Bush culminating in the disaster that was the Iraq war. Whatever Blair’s thinking was about the war, he felt that because of the “special relationship” Britain must act as its cheerleader.  This was also the view of most of the British cabinet.

Contrast that with the attitude of France and Germany, who opposed the Iraq war on logical, thoughtful calculations – that the war was unnecessary, illegal and not in the West’s interest.

That illegal war has caused death, injury and suffering to thousands of British and American people, and inflicted enormous suffering on the entire Iraqi people with death and injury to hundreds of thousands if not millions. It has also caused enormous damage to the reputation of the US and Britain, weakened the rule of international law, and the authority of international institutions. It has also invigorated international terrorism.  You would think after such a disaster future British governments would be more circumspect in foolishly and slavishly following America in its future wars.  Not a bit of it.

Britain’s Guardian Newspaper (3 December 2010) reports on a meeting between Liam Fox, the current British Defence Minister, and the US ambassador, Louis Susman, a year ago.  On 10 December 2009, in a WikiLeaks cable marked “confidential”, Susman recorded:

Liam Fox affirmed his desire to work closely with the US if the Conservative Party wins power…….adding that we (Conservatives) intend to follow a much more pro-American profile in procurement.” He reportedly went on: “Increasing US-UK ‘interoperability is the key’ since the US and UK will continue to fight together in the future

At the time, Liam Fox was the shadow Defence Minister, and the cable quoted him saying “US and UK will continue to fight together in the future”.  This statement shows contempt for democracy, its institutions and us, the people of Britain. These are the remarks dictators make knowing that their word is law, and should not be made by a democratically elected politician, and to make them after the disastrous illegal war against Iraq beggars belief.

Moreover, such general commitment was apparently given, regardless of who might be in the White House in the future. This is alarming to the people of the US, Britain and millions across the world who could well be at the receiving end of such wars.  Have Britain’s politicians finally become totally compliant puppets of the US?  It seems its leaders are falling over each other to prostrate themselves before whoever occupies the White House.  The Labour party, for obvious reasons, is completely relaxed about such revelations; they could not possibly object given the role Tony Blair played in the illegal war against Iraq as cheerleader-in-chief.  Many liberal minded people hoped that with their new leader, Ed Miliband, they would protest at such a dangerously irresponsible commitment.  The liberal democrats who had behaved honourably in opposing the Iraq war are now part of the government, and have remained silent.  We now have a situation where there is no opposition, no one to question and challenge the British role in future wars.

Without the so called “special relationship” as interpreted by Tony Blair, Britain may have stood with France and Germany in opposition to the Iraq war, which could well have delayed its start. This would have given Hans Blix and his team of inspectors enough time to prove conclusively and publically that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction, thus removing the “supposed” excuse for the war, making it difficult for the Americans to proceed.

The special relationship is also damaging the interests of the American and British people by stopping Britain from becoming an effective member of the European Union, and cooperating with the rest of Europe to develop a common foreign policy.

Bagehot, in the Economistdescribes the exasperation of European politicians with Britain thus:

EU politicians keep waiting for some humiliation to happen that wakes us(the British) up to our true status as America’s Trojan poodles in Europe: slavish in Washington (eg, over Iraq) and cocky in Brussels, and happy to help the Americans divide the EU and rule.

Of course, Britain’s relationship with the US has not always been so subservient.  Harold Wilson, the then British prime minister, refused during his premiership (1964-1968), to join America in the Vietnam War, so snubbing President Lyndon Johnson.

Jonathan Coleman, in American Studies Online, writes:

Opposition to the Vietnam war within the Labour party and among the British general public meant that the Wilson government could not satisfy the United States’ desire for support; certainly, London had to reject the frequent American requests for combat troops.

This principled stand by Harold Wilson shows his stature compared to the grovelling role played by Tony Blair in the Iraq war.

Britain needs to grow up from this infantile obsession with the special relationship, to be independent, and with Europe to develop a sane foreign policy that challenges the aggressive and mad policies pushed by those on the right in the US.

Adnan Al-Daini (PhD, Birmingham University, UK) is a retired University Engineering lecturer. He is a British citizen born in Iraq. He writes regularly on issues of social justice and the Middle East. Read other articles by Adnan.