At the end of World War II, a gifted young British expert on Russia named Thomas Brimelow—later ambassador to Poland, but at the time reporting from Moscow—ventured that what the Soviet Union respected most about Great Britain was “our ability to collect friends.” Indeed, having allies in this world matters if you want to advance your agenda. Of the many things a new American president will need to do in 2017, one is to begin repairing America’s relations with our key allies. Start with the United Kingdom.
There’s no shortage of concerned chatter about the state of affairs. Foreign Policy speaks of the “decline” in U.S.-U.K. ties; the Telegraph says the “special relationship hangs by a thread.” National Review contends that should the post of prime minister land in the hands of Labour’s new leader, Jeremy Corbyn—the 66-year-old socialist who describes Hamas as “friends” and advocates renationalization of key industries—we’d have a final nail in the coffin. Even the staid Financial Times opines that the special relationship has ceased being very special.
In point of fact, the historical record of our strategic love affair with the British has hardly been without its bumps. Yes, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher got along famously. “Your problems will be ours,” proclaimed the Iron Lady in her first meeting with Reagan as president in 1981. Before that, John F. Kennedy and Harold Macmillan became friends. Jimmy Carter and James Callaghan worked well together. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both enjoyed closed ties to Tony Blair. It was Winston Churchill (whose mother was American) who coined the term “special relationship,” first in 1944, but then pushing the expression into the mainstream two years later in his famous 1946 Iron Curtain speech in Fulton, Missouri. As wartime prime minister, Churchill once informed Charles de Gaulle, “[E]ach time I must choose between you and Roosevelt, I shall choose Roosevelt.”
These were the lovely moments. Between the two world wars, though, there had been naval rivalry and British accusations that the United States had ruined the League of Nations (the Senate refused to ratify the league’s covenant after the Paris Peace Conference in 1919). After World War II, there was Dwight D. Eisenhower’s opposition to British military operations in Suez, which resulted in British humiliation and the resignation of Prime Minister Anthony Eden in January 1957. There was Lyndon Johnson’s intense dislike of Harold Wilson, whose government declined to commit troops to Vietnam (according to the American ambassador to the Court of St. James, Wilson feared being seen at home as “a mere satellite” of the United States).
Then, too, add to the list of sore spots Ted Heath, the conservative prime minister who followed Wilson (1970-74). An ardent advocate of British integration into Europe, he was at best lukewarm about the special relationship. Heath had once declined the post of ambassador to the United States.
So it hasn’t been all roses. But what’s different now?
For one thing, context. As the United States has signaled retreat during two terms of Barack Obama, our adversaries have advanced: China in East Asia, Russia in Eastern Europe (and now Syria), and ISIS and Iran in the Middle East. And as world order unravels—arguably more so than at any other time in the last 60 years—it’s crucial that we make sure the West becomes strong again at its core. That’s NATO and the transatlantic partnership. And it’s hard to imagine getting any of this back into shape without Britain strong and solidly committed to the alliance, especially at this moment. True, Germany is important. It’s Europe’s largest economy, and Angela Merkel has been formidable in standing up to Vladimir Putin over Ukraine. But Merkel’s chancellorship may soon be in serious trouble, in the wake of a very unpopular Greek bailout and as the country’s (and the European Union’s) migration crisis deepens. The EU as a whole is likely to be looking inward for the foreseeable future, with Germany reverting to trade and cautious diplomacy as the mainstays of Berlin’s foreign policy.
Two hundred and fifty years ago, the French and Indian War had just ended, and Britain’s Parliament was determined to find some way to maintain a standing army, to avoid putting 1,500 socially well-connected officers out of work. Their solution was to keep the Army in North America stationed as a buffer between the colonists and American Indians. Even though, said the colonists, no such buffer was needed.
For years, the British government and a network of anti-Guantanamo activists have agitated for the release of Shaker Aamer. Now their wish was finally granted. Aamer has been released from Guantanamo. He is receiving a hero’s welcome in the UK, where much of the media has treated him as an innocent who was wrongly detained.
The eighties, as the hipsters among us know, are undergoing a revival. The music and fashion of the decade have been disinterred, and its politics too. Where, the pundits of America ask, is our Reagan? Meanwhile in Britain, the Labour party has revived its eighties’ follies by choosing an unelectable leader. Jeremy Corbyn is one of the hardest of the hard left, an ideological relic. His surprising success in Labour’s leadership election represents an unsavory turn in European politics.
A little over 30 years ago, three generations of the McMartin family, who had run a nursery school in Los Angeles for decades, were arrested, jailed, and put on trial, charged with hundreds of sensational counts of child sexual abuse. Six years later, when no convictions had been obtained, all charges were dropped against them—including against one family member who had languished in jail for five years without being convicted of anything.
Secretary of State John Kerry defended the Obama administration's decision to take the Iran deal to the United Nations before the U.S. Congress votes on it. Kerry made the remarks in an interview this morning on ABC News:
The ABC reporter, Jon Karl, asked, "But the bottom line, the UN is going to vote on this before Congress gets to vote on this?"
Willow Run Airport, Mich. There aren’t a lot of four-lane highways in rural Michigan. But the vast field a few miles east of Ypsilanti once needed a wide road. It was the site of Ford’s Willow Run plant, the heart of the Arsenal of Democracy. And now it’s becoming America’s first museum dedicated to the World War II production miracle that armed and saved the free world.
Eighteen months ago Britain’s Nigel Farage was a political curiosity, head of a fringe party, gadfly member of the European Parliament, an ex-commodities broker who never went to college—dismissed as a nutcase by ruling elites in London and Brussels. Today he’s being touted as a future prime minister.
Hong Kong On the evening of Saturday, October 4, enormous crowds gathered in downtown Hong Kong at the main site of the democracy protests that have dominated the affairs of this city of 7.2 million for weeks. They filled an eight-lane thoroughfare in the center of the Admiralty business district, spilling out around the adjacent government office complex. Banners hanging from overpasses demanded democracy and denounced the deeply unpopular, Beijing-appointed chief executive, CY Leung.
In the late 17th century, times were tough in Scotland. The Stuarts, the Scots’ royal family, had been tossed off the throne of England for a second time, and the country had been excluded from the burgeoning English system of international trade regulated by the Navigation Acts. Even the climate was more miserable than usual: these were the worst years of northern Europe’s “little ice age.”
This week’s referendum on Scottish independence may seem like an obscure, perhaps even Ruritanian quarrel to many Americans, but it has profound implications not just for the U.K. and Europe but also for the United States.