By Charles Maggs
The first couple of months of the coalition government have put quite a strain on the much revered ‘special relationship’ between Britain and the US. Despite BP managing to at least temporarily plug the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico it’s an issue that continues to drain the organisations resources and slightly taint Britain’s image in the US as the model ally.
Relations with the US have been on the slide ever since Gordon Brown’s coronation as PM after the utopian highs of the Blair-Bush ranch love ins. Brown promised a new approach to the special relationship, an attempt perhaps to quell the UK’s image as America’s lap-dog and a cooling of relations with the superpower would also only serve to satisfy the Labour left still reeling from the Iraq fiasco. Despite the slight change in tone there was little policy shift from the previous administration beyond the handing over of Basra to American control. The policy in Afghanistan remained the same-mainly to bite off far more than we can chew by administering Helmand province and persist in overstretching our chronically underfunded military.
Then came the election of Barak Obama and suddenly America was cool again with every senior western politician desperate to be snapped with the new leader of the free world. Brown seemed so desperate he latched to Obama round the kitchens of the UN building like a geeky younger sibling, desperate as he was to spend some time the States 1st black President. The big blow to US-UK relations was to follow in August of last year, coming in the curious form of the SNP’s Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill. His decision to release the only man convicted of the 1988 Lockerby atrocity Abdelbaset al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds was as unpopular on this side of the pond as the other and led to widespread condemnation from seemingly everywhere except number 10, putting Gordon Brown in his now familiar position of powerless. The decision followed medical advice saying that Megrahi would be dead within in a matter of weeks, sadly however, much like BP’s oil spill, he was not killed off within three months. Nine months on Megrahi is still alive and BP’s fallout will go on for much longer (one must be thankful that BP changed its name, not from British Petroleum, but from its original Anglo-Persian Oil company). The two incidents have led to some world class bandwagon jumping in the US with a number of Senators (no doubt with half an eye on upcoming mid-term elections) calling for an investigation into BP’s role in the release of Al-Megrahi.
At least it would appear that the special relationship would persist in the most testing of arenas and in the same area in which its’ unbreakable bond was born: on the battlefield. Until 2014 that is. Liam Fox’s announcement at the weekend that British troops will be leaving Afghanistan in four years time have prompted the Mulla Omar quote that so often does the rounds when calls for a timetables withdrawal are made that; “you may have the clock but we have the time”. Meaning that the Taliban could happily sit out the next four years waiting for the Western forces to leave before regaining power against a defenceless and corrupt Kabul regime.
All this comes just days before Cameron’s first visit to the US as PM. He has tried to clear the air somewhat by condemning the release of Al-Megrahi but I can’t help but think he’s going to have to put on quite the charm offensive if he is to restore Britain’s standing as the US closest and most reliable ally.