Changing the Guard at Ten Downing Street
LONDON — After days of torturous negotiations last week, David Cameron’s Conservatives finally made a deal with Nick Clegg’s center-left Liberal Democrats, and Great Britain finally had a government.
As the late British politician Enoch Powell observed, "all political careers end in failure." Former PM Gordon Brown was quickly ousted from 10 Downing Street and packed off to retirement. The new, youthful David and Nick show moved at flank speed into 10 Downing Street. It was almost as fast as a palace coup.
Interestingly, in spite of the worsening financial storm looming over Europe, one of the first questions the Cameron-Clegg coalition turned to was the hallowed "Special Relationship" linking Britain and the United States.
At the end of World War II, Winston Churchill proclaimed a "special relationship" between Britain and the United States, an undying bond of brotherhood, loyalty in war, and friendship transcending politics.
This transatlantic myth has gripped both nations ever since and has become a hallowed article of faith among American neoconservatives, in whose faith Churchill is their central deity.
A far more accurate and cynical political analysis was made in the 19th Century by Britain’s famed Lord Palmerston: "Nations have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies. Only permanent interests."
Now, in a major policy change, Britain’s new, 43-year-old leader, Conservative David Cameron, says he wants US-British relations reevaluated and made more pragmatic.
In a sharply pointed reference to the era of Britain’s former PM Tony Blair, the new Conservative foreign secretary, William Hague, called for Anglo-American relations that were "solid, not slavish.’ This is interesting, since Tory bigwig Hague is considered a leading British neocon and the standard-bearer of his patron, Margaret Thatcher.
Last month, a special multiparty parliamentary group requested an end to the use of the term "special relationship," and a review of "unbalanced"(read: one-sided) US-UK relations.
Britain’s new deputy prime minister, Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg, said the time for "unthinking subservience to US interests" was over. Clegg has long opposed Britain’s involvement in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and Washington’s one-sided Mideast policies. Clegg has quite rightly warned that handcuffing Britain to America’s ruinous policies in the Mideast and Afghanistan would end up dragging down the United Kingdom and generating new enemies.
US President Barack Obama, who is interested in issues rather than personalities, also has been steering away from the
Churchillian mythology of eternal Anglo-American brotherhood. Obama wants more pragmatism in Atlantic relations.
After Obama took office, he ordered a bust of Churchill in the president’s Oval office removed. PM Gordon Brown got something of a cold shoulder in Washington. These acts were not slights, as Britain’s media howled. Rather, Obama’s attention was focused elsewhere, namely Afghanistan, the Mideast, India and China.
Britain is falling out of Washington’s favor because it is no longer as useful as in the past. Cameron’s new government must quickly slash $240 billion in spending or risk a Greek-style financial crisis. The European Central Bank just warned that Britain faced a more severe financial crisis than Greece.
It seems likely there will be deep cuts in military spending, including aircraft carriers, submarines, nuclear forces, transport aircraft, and money to wage wars abroad. The small but hard-fighting British Army has become the elite auxiliary to US imperial forces abroad, the same role as Nepal’s fierce Gurkhas played in the colonial armies of the British Raj.
Those days are over.
Many Britons, including Conservatives, were appalled by Tony Blair’s often sickening servility and sycophancy towards President Bush and his arrant lies about Iraq. Blair’s actions wrecked the Labour Party.
Brits were rankled to hear Blair called, "Bush’s poodle," and mocked by French and Germans as a American protectorate. Many Europeans still share DeGaulle’s view of Britain as an American Trojan Horse whose mission is to sabotage European unity.
Britain has indeed been under remarkably strong US influence since WWII. The US maintains key airbases in Britain with stockpiled nuclear weapons and long-ranged radar installations. Britain’s nuclear arsenal, developed with secret US assistance, is said to require Washington’s permission before it can be used. Britain’s military relies on US intelligence, material, and technical support. Britain would probably have lost the Falklands War without Washington’s secret supply of advanced Sidewinder air-to-air missiles.
In 1904, Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II presciently predicted that fifty years hence, the mighty British Empire would be crushed between the weight of emerging America and Russia.
The British Raj is gone, but modern Britain remains an important mid-level power. According to geopolitician Zbig Brezhinski, Britain provides American power a stepping stone onto the European continent, as does Japan in Asia.
The new Cameron-Clegg coalition will continue to favor the US rather than the European Union, of which the UK is a halfhearted member.
New foreign secretary Hague hurried off to Washington to utter the usual platitudes about Anglo-American relations.
But the days of seeing Anglo-US relations through the rose-tinted glasses of emotions and patriotic propaganda are past. The ground upon which this great alliance was built is shifting. Britain is facing a frightening financial crisis and an emergency budget next week. Great Britain can no longer afford to be either America’s poodle, or its bulldog.
May 18, 2010
Eric Margolis [send him mail] is contributing foreign editor for Sun National Media Canada. He is the author of War at the Top of the World and the new book, American Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the West and the Muslim World. See his website.