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What's So Special?

Can this relationship be saved?

May 24, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 34 • By FRED BARNES
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It’s true that American policy is more important to Britain than British policy is to America. But without its deep ties to the United Kingdom, the United States would often be operating alone in the world, with no major ally. Absent Thatcher, Smith wrote, Reagan “would have been a beleaguered figure at economic summits during at least his first term.” She also famously urged the first President Bush not to “go wobbly” after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. Bush didn’t.

Putting the partnership back together won’t be easy. Despite his encouraging words last week, Obama seems considerably more interested in China, Russia, and the European Union than in Britain. And unlike most presidents, he doesn’t think close personal ties to foreign leaders are essential.

“Cameron is distinctly pro-American,” says Nile Gardiner, the expert on Britain at the Heritage Foundation. But his deputy prime minister in the new coalition government, Nick Clegg, is anything but. “Clegg is going to have a bit of a dampening effect,” Gardiner says. “He doesn’t believe in the transatlantic alliance. It’s going to be harder for Cameron to be as pro-American as he would like.”

There are specific issues on which Obama and Cameron differ, in addition to the Falklands. The alliance is, partly but importantly, a military one, and Cameron has vowed to cut spending immediately by $9 billion. This is likely to mean reductions in military expenditures to levels that are risky by American standards. Also, Cameron is staying clear of the Greek bailout and is certain to avoid involvement if other European countries face default. Obama is deeply involved.

But Cameron, as the weaker of the two partners, can do only so much to revive the special relationship. The president has to play the bigger role. If he looks at Afghanistan, where Britain has 10,000 troops, and at every other trouble spot, he’ll notice that one country is invariably on America’s side. He shouldn’t be surprised who it is.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.

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