From the September 9, 2009 Daily Telegraph
September 10, 2009
by Irwin Stelzer
So Scotland Yard is complaining that its overly "edgy" American counterparts almost blew the arrest of the terrorists convicted this week of plotting to blow up several transatlantic flights, by moving prematurely to have one of them arrested in Pakistan. It just shows, say those who deny there is a "special relationship" between the US and the UK, how America ignores the advice of its partner. Not so: the key point is that our countries' security services worked in (imperfect) harmony for several months, and to a successful conclusion. Thousands of lives were spared.
Last week's anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War also produced unkind words about the special relationship. The indictment of America for treating that relationship as a one-way street, one in which America demands much of Britain in return for little, is not new. After the war, when President Truman abruptly ended Lend-Lease, Britain was forced to negotiate a loan that, despite the best efforts of its brilliant negotiator, John Maynard Keynes, many viewed as onerous. Worse even than that, in some eyes, was what they saw as Dwight Eisenhower's scuppering what would have been a successful effort to unseat Nasser after he nationalised the Suez canal.
Fast-forward to more recent times and we have the Iraq war, into which special-relationship deniers say Tony Blair led the nation merely "to get up the a––– of the White House and stay there", as your then-ambassador, Christopher Meyer, so elegantly described his instructions.
You get the idea: the special relationship is a myth, useful when Winston Churchill wanted to induce Franklin Roosevelt to come to his aid, but increasingly a delusion that results in a British foreign policy that serves American interests.
But consider this. Truman's decision was in considerable part due to America's unwillingness to fund Britain's emerging welfare state, or to make it easier for Britain to maintain its empire, with the associated barriers to American exports. And Eisenhower's position on Suez might have done less to end that adventure than what Harold Macmillan's biographer, Charles Williams, asserts was Macmillan's misrepresentation to the Cabinet of the allegedly dire state of your nation's finances.
All that is the stuff of historians' arguments. This mere journalist is more impressed with realities on the ground. Ask yourself this: is there any nation that has comparable access to the corridors of power in America: the White House, Congress, the Pentagon? By virtue of a common language; Britain's selection of extraordinarily capable ambassadors to represent it; the appreciation of Americans for Britain's heroic effort to hold off the Nazis while we dithered; and your support in two wars in Iraq and willingness so far to carry a disproportionately large part of the burden of the fighting in Afghanistan, Britain punches so much above its weight in America that to call our relationship with it other than special would be to ignore reality.
Doubt that, and scan the list of American power players who scramble for invitations to briefings and the social events (always laden with politics) at the British embassy. Or check the number of think-tank seminars that feature British intellectuals and officials, and the frequency with which British scholars are invited to testify before Congress on issues ranging from global warming to foreign policy. Or consider the more-or-less united front that we Anglo-Saxons are presenting to the French and Germans on reforming the world's financial system.
Does this mean that America and Britain always defer to the other's foreign policy interests? Of course not. Harold Wilson refused to support us when we desperately needed Britain's help in Vietnam, and more recently you left it to us to fight in Basra when Gordon Brown reneged on Britain's commitment there.
As for America-as-partner, George W Bush deferred to British domestic politics when he offered Tony Blair the option of staying out of the unpopular second Iraq War – a gesture not in America's interests.
And it was Bush who bowed to Britain's plea that America make one more effort to get UN backing, even though he knew it was an exercise in futility, and agreed to British requests to sign on to a Middle East "road map" that he felt would lead nowhere. No other nation could have wrung such concessions.
Nor could any other nation have persuaded America to antagonise its Latin American neighbours by supporting it in the Falklands war, when all US interests other than the preservation of the special relationship dictated doing the opposite. We wavered at times, but in the end came through for Britain to such an extent that our then-secretary of defence was recommended for a knighthood by Lady Thatcher, as she now is.
No relationship ever runs smoothly. America has reason to worry that Gordon Brown is less interested in standing with America than financing an expanding welfare state, and Britain has reason to worry that Barack Obama thinks history began the day he appeared on the international scene. But to deny that the US-UK relationship is special is to make an error that can have serious consequences for the conduct of foreign policy.
Irwin Stelzer is a Senior Fellow and Director of Economic Policy Studies for the Hudson Institute. He is also the U.S. economist and political columnist for The Sunday Times (London) and The Courier Mail (Australia), a columnist for The New York Post, and an honorary fellow of the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies for Wolfson College at Oxford University. He is the founder and former president of National Economic Research Associates and a consultant to several U.S. and United Kingdom industries on a variety of commercial and policy issues. He has a doctorate in economics from Cornell University and has taught at institutions such as Cornell, the University of Connecticut, New York University, and Nuffield College, Oxford.
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