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Jewish World Review
Oct. 20, 2009
/ 2 Mar-Cheshvan 5770
A Job Waiting for a Woman?
As if the parlous state of the world economy and jitters in the Middle East were not enough, we now have a crisis in Anglo-American relations. There are faults on both sides. Since taking office, Barack Obama has behaved as though the Special Relationship doesn't exist. This is by no means unusual in the first year of a new Administration, and it need not be serious.
Unfortunately President Obama's attitude has been compounded by a catastrophic error by Gordon Brown, Britain's devious and accident-prone prime minister, regarding the release of the Lockerbie bomber. British governments do not always have to do what the U.S. wants on issues that affect both countries. But if Britain decides it is imperative to its national interest to go it alone, it is vital to keep the White House privately but fully informed regarding its intentions.
Sir Anthony Eden failed to do this in 1956, when he secretly decided to occupy the Suez Canal in conjunction with France and Israel. President Dwight Eisenhower was kept in complete ignorance indeed, he was deliberately deceived. In his first explosion of anger (Ike could be very ferocious when provoked), Eisenhower allowed the U.S. Treasury to sell sterling on world exchanges. This provoked a run on sterling, which forced Eden to call off the operation, thus terminating his already shaky political career. It took a great deal of skill on the part of his successor, Harold Macmillan, to put Anglo-American relations back on their old footing.
It is notable that when Margaret Thatcher decided to send an expedition to recover the Falkland Islands she carefully avoided Eden's error. She told President Ronald Reagan everything, in confidence, and was given his blessing. As a result, the U.S. was able to render Britain covert but vital assistance during the course of what became a highly successful operation.
Brown, who is always boasting about his reading but seems to know little history, ignored these precedents, good and bad, and kept President Obama in the dark. The result has been anger and resentment. Obama may have an edgy attitude toward Britain because of its colonial past, but regarding the Lockerbie release, Brown behaved in what, to borrow a phrase from a former Secretary of State, can only be called a "duplicitous manner."
Among Brown's many character failings is a positive dislike of telling the unvarnished truth, as well as the occasional propensity to lie outright. Concealment and deception are habitual with him. Now he's in deep trouble with Britain's greatest indeed, at present, its only ally.
It's commonplace to say the Special Relationship is dead and pronounce its obsequies. But in truth the relationship is always alive because it is based on deep linguistic, cultural and spiritual values that the two nations hold in common. Sometimes, however, the relationship lies dormant, until it is rudely revived by events.
All American Presidents discover, sooner or later, that when they're in a tough spot and are obliged, in the world's long-term interests, to adopt a policy that arouses fierce international opposition, Britain is the first and, often, only country to display sympathy and support.
Equally, during the lifetime of the average U.S. Administration, Britain is sure to get into a mess that requires a helping American hand, extended not in the normal call of international duty but for old times' sake. In both instances, it is a matter of sentiment, as well as self-interest. And sentiment, if strong enough, is as powerful as Realpolitik. Thus the Special Relationship endures, even though often, like Lazarus, it needs to be raised from the dead.
Who is to perform the miracle this time? Brown, clogged by failure on all sides, shell-shocked and made extra clumsy by consciousness of his own ineptitude, is incapable of doing it. David Cameron, the Tory leader, is eager to try. However, as things now stand, it looks as if the Labour government, facing inevitable defeat, will run its full legal term. Therefore, Cameron won't get his chance until next May and in an ever more dangerous world that is a long time to wait.
Obama probably feels too affronted to make an effort to restore friendship with Britain. And he is still sufficiently cocky to fail to see the necessity of doing so.
That leaves Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has been on the fringe of great events for a long time and knows from experience how important it is for America and Britain to remain closely allied. President Obama's global grandstanding has left Mrs. Clinton with little to do. But this is an important job waiting to be done, one that she could do quietly, unostentatiously and effectively.
To restore the Anglo-American Special Relationship would be a fine feather in Hillary Clinton's cap as well as a fine test of her diplomatic skills and womanly intuition especially if she retains presidential ambitions and if Obama, as now seems likely, is a one-term President.
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© 2009, Paul Johnson