This weekend, the new British Prime Minister Gordon Brown meets US President George Bush for the first time....

Brown's first meeting with Bush may mean the end of the 'special' affair

27th July 2007
Daily Mail

This weekend Gordon Brown meets George Bush for the first time as PM. So how should he treat the 'special relationship' that's always been cynically exploitative and ruthlessly one-sided?

Only five years ago, in the run-up to the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, the 'Special Relationship' between the United Kingdom and the United States seemed to be warmer and closer than even during World War II.

This was due above all to Tony Blair's personal wooing of George W. Bush - indeed to Blair's apparent adoration of the President, as revealed by countless photo- opportunities at the White House or at Camp David.

Test: Gordon Brown is to meet President Bush for the first time as Prime Minister

Yet today, in the aftermath of Blair's political demise, the future of the relationship is becoming a matter of fierce debate in Britain between loyal Atlanticists and the sceptics.

Tomorrow night Gordon Brown will meet President Bush for the first time since becoming Prime Minister.

He will do so at a time when Washington is troubled by doubts as to whether the special relationship will grow less special under his leadership - and more distant.

Should Britain simply recognise the obvious fact that her link with America, the world's only superpower, must be more important than with any other country?

That seems to be what the new Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, was hinting in a speech last week.

Or should British and American world policy continue to be 'joined at the hip', as in Tony Blair's time?

It is this degree of intimacy, personified by the 'buddy' relations between Bush and Blair, which sceptics like myself regard as so dangerous.

Certainly Winston Churchill during World War II and Margaret Thatcher in the last phase of the Cold War were careful to be on close and cordial terms with their opposite numbers, Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan.

But neither of them ever forgot that they were prime ministers of the United Kingdom, with separate national interests for which they fought hard and often successfully.

Never in word nor gesture did they sink into the dog-like deference shown by Blair towards Bush.

We cannot forget that for Blair 'the Special Relationship'(or perhaps his own relationship with Bush?)
was so paramount that he tamely connived in Washington's ill-judged decision in 2002-3 to topple Saddam Hussein - and did so even in the face of the profound doubts of the Labour Party and most of the British people about the wisdom of going to war.

We cannot forget that he also acquiesced in Washington's grotesque failure to plan and prepare for the postwar governance of Iraq, with all the appalling and unending human consequences we now have to live with.

In the event, Blair's extreme version of 'the special relationship' led to the shipwreck of his premiership, sunk before time by the nation's loathing and contempt for him because of the catastrophe that he had wrought in Iraq alongside George W. Bush.

But now Blair has gone, replaced as Prime Minister by that dour chunk of Scots granite, Gordon Brown.

In Washington, Bush himself struggles on, a lame duck still bravely quacking about ultimate victory in Iraq.

But the discredited neo-con architects of the Iraq catastrophe like Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld have fallen, their places round the President occupied by cooler heads such as Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State.

At the beginning of this new political era, it is therefore right that British politicians and the British public examine afresh the character of 'the special relationship', and ponder how to shape it for the future.

For a start, we should not fall for starry-eyed romantic gush about the joint destiny of the English-speaking peoples.

Of course we and the Americans have much in common culturally and politically.

After all, British tourists enjoy American holidays, while influential British-born academics love well-paid jobs in American universities.

And British professional groups, from parliamentarians to lawyers and accountants, love getting together with their American opposite numbers, especially in resorts like Palm Beach or Hawaii.

But none of this - repeat, none of this - has anything to do with the basic fact that the relationship between London and Washington is that of two nation-states.

The relationship is therefore not a matter of sentiment, or of friendship, but of corporate interests, which may sometimes coincide and sometimes not. Power, then, is the key.

And the hard historical fact is that 'the special relationship' was born out of desperate British need in 1940-41 for rescue from the Nazi peril by the industrial and military might of the United States.

Churchill knew that without American economic aid on the grand scale Britain would be unable to go on fighting Germany and Italy, let alone Japan as well.

He also knew that without huge American supplies of machine-tools, weaponry and aircraft, Britain could neither equip her war factories nor the armed forces of the Empire on the scale required.

This desperate British need was ruthlessly exploited by Washington at the time.

In 1939-40 America demanded cash payments for all industrial and military supplies, with the result that Britain's shrinking reserves of gold and dollars (finally exhausted by early 1941) served to kick-start America's own war economy.

Only when Britain was literally bankrupt did the U.S. Congress pass the Lend-Lease Act in April 1941 in order to keep Britain in the war by supplying what she could no longer pay for.

Remember, this measure was entitled 'An Act for promoting the defence of the United States'.

Morover, the U.S. authorities laid down draconian and closely monitored restrictions on British use of Lend-Lease supplies, in order to ensure that all went towards the war effort and nothing towards helping Britain's shattered export trade.

No such restrictions were put on supplies to the Soviet Union.

We sometimes forget that the entire British war effort from 1941 to 1945 critically depended on American supplies and subsidies. Churchill well understood this.

To the British public he brilliantly covered up this fact of national dependence by glorious oratory about the comradeshipinarms between the two great branches of the English-speaking peoples.

What's more, this dependence continued long into the postwar era.

British prime ministers and foreign secretaries - British Cabinets - might pretend to themselves and other nations that Britain was still a great world power, but the truth was that without a huge American loan in 1945 to replace Lend-Lease (only finally paid back this year), and then the largest share of Marshall Aid received by any European country, Britain would have been reduced to an impoverished second-rate power on the edge of Europe.

Throughout the five decades of the 'Cold War' with the Soviet Union, Britain depended on American military protection.

It was a Labour Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, who persuaded the United States to sign the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949 and set up the American-led military structure of Nato in 1950.

From the Conservative government of Harold Macmillan in 1957 to the present day, the so-called 'independent' British nuclear deterrent has actually been critically dependent on American technology, and subject to unilateral American decisions over missile development.

This was true of Polaris, is true of Trident, and will be true of Trident's replacement.

We are also going to buy from America the aircraft and helicopters to equip our two new big aircraft carriers, just approved.

Thus the relationship has always been one- sided, with the U.S. employing its vastly greater muscle to pressure Britain into conforming with the priorities of American policy.

For instance, in the late 1940s when Britain was economically dependent on Marshall Aid, Washington exerted heavy pressure on her to abdicate her imperial role and instead embrace a closer political and economic union with Continental Europe.

Then in 1950, President Harry Truman and Secretary of State Dean Acheson succeeded in pressing Clem Attlee's Labour Government to take Britain into the Korean War, although the Cabinet Defence Committee had recommended against it on the score that the British armed forces were already overstretched.

Later that year virtual coercion from Washington led the Labour Government to adopt a colossal rearmament programme, so overloading-British industry just when our old trade rivals like Germany were again attacking us in world markets.

It marked a fateful turning point in Britain's postwar economic fortunes.

At the time of Anthony Eden's Suez adventure in 1956, the U.S. (in the form of President Eisenhower and Secretary of State Dulles) FAILED to display the loyal support for an ally which the U.S. herself has always expected from Britain.

Worse, they destroyed Eden by refusing to back an International Monetary Fund loan to save the pound sterling from collapse unless he agreed to an immediate cease-fire and a promise of early withdrawal from Egypt.

Even over the illegal Argentinian invasion of the Falkland Isles - British territory - in 1982, the U.S. Secretary of State, Al Haig, did his best to negotiate a deal which would have left the Argentinian flag flying over the islands.

Thankfully the U.S. Secretary of Defence, 'Cap' Weinberger, proved a truer friend, supplying the satellite intelligence and the Sidewinder missiles that helped Britain to prevail.

What are the lessons today's British political leaders should learn from the historical record of 'the special relationship'?

Firstly, they should not buy any romantic gush about the joint destinies of the English-speaking peoples - or about a joint mission to spread democracy round the world.

Nor should they believe that it is of paramount importance to Britain to be unconditionally loyal to American world policy.

These are the ways to repeat Tony Blair's catastrophic misjudgment over Iraq.

Instead, our political leaders must recognise that the interests and ambitions of the United States as a military hyperpower do not necessarily coincide with those of Britain, an island centre of global finance.

Rather, we should remember the worldly good sense of another Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, who resisted American pressure to commit British forces to the Vietnam War, that object lesson in the disastrous consequences of military intervention in the cause of democracy and Western 'values'.

The basic fact is that America, with a GDP more than five times as big as Britain's, and a defence budget ten times as big, is in a totally different order of national weight from Britain.

It is therefore mere self-delusion to believe that Britain can be a 'partner' of America in any real sense of the word.

And in any case, British leaders should remember that Britain no longer stands in desperate need of American economic succour or military protection.

It is now six decades since the end of World War II, and nearly two decades since the end of the Cold War.

In regard to the new menace from Islamic terrorists, the 'special relationship' has proved a source of danger rather than an insurance policy.

So today the British Foreign Office can afford to ask a hard question: in what way would being 'joined at the hip' with American world policy promote Britain's own national prosperity, security and independence of action?


1) Britain - 3,297
2) France - 2,296
3) Germany - 1,448
4) Italy - 1,204
5) Netherlands - 1,128
6) Belgium and Luxembourg - 777
7) Austria - 488
8 ) Denmark - 385
9) Norway - 372
10) Greece - 366

Last edited by Blackleaf; Jul 28th, 2007 at 01:00 PM..