Political Promise

Has our Relationahip with America Changed?

In Michael Indian on July 2, 2010 at 6:11 am

By Mike Indian

Our generation loathes the phrase “special relationship.” For the children of the Blair years, those words are synonymous with the infamously close dynamic of George W Bush and Tony Blair. This most political of bromances was a vital part of the slide into the Iraq War, a conflict whose most lasting legacy to satirists was Britain as America’s lap dog.

On a day when Foreign Secretary William Hague delivered his first major speech in his new role, my mind went back to the bilateral relationship that has lain at the heart of our nation’s foreign policy for the last decade. A lot has changed since Winston Churchill first coined the phrase that now seems to define Anglo-American relations, but it is still accurate so many decades after it was coined?

The finest gauge of this is to examine the ever changing bond is to examine the connection between the leaders. At times it is has been a close and tightly wound link; Margret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan on the New Right, Tony Blair and George Bush on a more spiritual level. Nonetheless, this most integral point of contact depends on a deeper and complex bond than simply ideological or personal links.

Relations with the US have noticeably cooled under the last two British Prime Ministers. Despite finding common ground on their approach to tackling the financial crisis, rumours of a snub from US President Barack Obama to Gordon Brown prompted a photo call with forced smiles and warm words.

Following this, in March 2010, the Commons Foreign Office committee declared that the phrase “special relationship” was no longer an accurate description of the link. Furthermore, Britain needed to be “less deferential” and more willing to say no to America.

Recently, further cracks started to show between Britain and the nation supposedly closest to our own. At the recent G20 and G8 meetings in Canada, President Obama cast lonely figure as he warned European leaders against early reductions in their public spending aimed at reducing its deficits. He made it clear that America would continue to borrow and spend its way to economic stability, and he wanted the rest of the world to follow suit. Quite a contrast to the stringent plan of deficit reduction preached by David Cameron, both at home and on the world stage. Irrespective of the compromises eventually hammered out, it signals a cooling in the connection on both sides of the Atlantic.

Key to this shift in relations is the emphasis Hague has placed on forming connections with the emerging economic powers of the world: India, China and Brazil. Speaking on the Daily Politics show today, Ming Campbell emphasised the shift in emphasis in US policy to look eastwards to China. A “G2”, he said, might be on the cards. And rightly so, only a fool would ignore China, hence the figures repeated today alongside calls for greater exports to this growing powerhouse.

A divergence of interests sets up a state of affairs on the international scene where Britain is increasingly in contest with the US. Not a bad thing at all, if this country is to carve out its own position in the world then it needs to look closer to home. Many Tories would do well to observe the remarkable consensus among our continental neighbours on debt reduction within the Euro zone. It provides a vital hint as to where the future of this nation’s foreign policy around the world should be directed.

In order to compete against new economic superpowers, regional blocs are the logical choice for smaller nations to survive in what will undoubtedly be a new mutli-polar world. The global financial crisis showed how unstable the main basis of our information economy is. It also hardened international perspectives. In times of plenty, it is easy to be generous, but now each nation looks more to their own state of affairs than wasting time on the language of global cooperation. David Cameron has clearly read the words of the Commons Foreign Office Committee and realised that what America decides is best for them is not what is always best for us.

That was a lesson we could have done with learning ten years ago.

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