Published July 20, 2010
In a relationship, troubles never come one at a time. The Anglo-American Special Relationship is no different.
Obama’s early discourtesies – the ejection of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office, the gift of incompatible DVDs to Gordon Brown, who is partially blind – were minor in themselves.
But they were a token of the president’s belief that Britain is just like any other European country – easily wooed, and hence of no real account.
That was a double error. The relationship between the United States and Great Britain matters deeply to both countries.
Over 10,000 British troops are fighting alongside U.S. forces in Afghanistan, a larger contribution than all the rest of NATO put together.
Britain – not China – is the largest foreign investor in the U.S. economy, and the U.S. is the largest investor in Britain’s. There are three times more U.S.-owned firms in Britain than there are in any other European country.
The ties go on and on – from tourism, to defense procurement, to intelligence sharing, the U.S. and Britain are the best partners in the world.
But that does not mean that the British will willingly be kicked in the teeth by the United States. While the Obama administration has occasionally dispensed honeyed words in Britain’s direction, it has done nothing of substance.
And even the words have usually been lacking. The administration talks about Afghanistan as though it is the only one with decisions to make.
When BP could not get a handle on its rogue oil well, the administration slammed it as “British Petroleum,” a name the company abandoned a decade ago.
When Obama came into office, an important treaty between the U.S. and Britain on defense trade cooperation was stalled in the Senate. Eighteen months later, it’s still stalled.
When Argentina renewed its ludicrous and undemocratic claim to Britain’s Falkland Islands, Obama refused to back the British. Churchill would call that appeasement, and he would be right.
Across Europe, Obama is still rapturously popular with the people. But among the political elite, discomfort has set in. They are beginning to appreciate the reality that, if Europe is going to define itself as the friend of soft-power, of accommodation all around, and of the comfortable welfare state, it needs the U.S. to provide security and economic dynamism.
The more the U.S. becomes like Europe, the more nervous Europe gets, precisely because the European model will fail all the sooner if the U.S. decides that two can play that game.
And nowhere is more nervous than Britain. Indeed, with a new British government in charge, led by David Cameron, Britain is now playing the role of the United States to Obama’s Europe.
It is the British government that is standing up and telling Obama that setting deadlines in Afghanistan is the way to lose the war, not to win it.
It is the British government that is cutting spending, trimming welfare, and rolling back the state. And it is the British government that is telling American lawmakers sternly that it’s not fair to negotiate mutually beneficial treaties in good faith and then leave the British standing at the altar for three years and counting.
There is a time and a place for pleasantries. This is not the time or the place. Gordon Brown played the role of supplicant: it got him nothing but abuse.
In his meetings with European delegations, Obama has reportedly been disconcerted by their size and their inability to come to the point. When Cameron meets Obama at the White House on Tuesday, he should try a different approach: give the president what he wants by speaking plainly.
He needs to tell the president that the U.S. is walking down the same economically destructive path that the Labour Party explored in Britain.
He needs to urge the president to stand up to the American left and fight for victory in Afghanistan, not a draw that the Taliban will rapidly turn into a defeat.
Above all, he needs to remind the president that the Anglo-American Special Relationship, like all firm relationships, is based on shared values and interests, and requires mutual respect. It can stand disagreements: the U.S. and Britain have disagreed in the past and will undoubtedly do so again in the future.
But what it cannot stand is a president who frivolously bashes Britain – and America’s other allies – for the sake of accommodating the no-drill lobby at home, the no-trade lobby on the Hill, and the no-democracy lobby abroad.
That kind of behavior has costs. It will cost us money, it will cost us in friends, and it will cost us in lives.
Before these bills start coming due, Cameron, as the leader of our best friend, has an obligation – to his nation and our own – to tell the president that the leader of the free world needs policies that stand for freedom, not more taxes, less trade, or any hint of accommodation with the Taliban.
If anyone can deliver than message, Cameron can.
Theodore Bromund is a senior research fellow in The Heritage Foundation's Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom.
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