“Death of the special relationship”? Poppycock!


There’s been an hysterical outpouring of angst over the “death of the special relationship”, following that Commons vote and the ill-advised comments of William Hague about a need for national soul-searching.  The Sun has devoted its front page to an extended metaphor — or maybe satire — about a funeral for the Special Relationship, taking place at the French Embassy.  A bit over-the-top.

And can we please at least drop the term “special relationship”?  It’s getting very jaded and a bit cringe-making.  It’s the Transatlantic Relationship.  Let’s call it that.  And it’s long-standing, resilient and multifaceted, driven not by sound-bites, and not solely be shared military adventures, but by history, culture, language, trade, scientific and educational links, shared values, military cooperation and intelligence ties.

Britain and America were actually at war in 1812/1814, in what was partly an American attempt to annex Canada.  I’ve seen the pock-marks left by British bullets on the White House masonry.

Cut to the Korean War, 1950/53, when American and British troops fought side by side, under UN auspices, and quite literally saved South Korea for democracy.  South Korea is now thriving, in stark contrast to its Kafka-esque northern neighbour.  I’ve spent many years in Korea, and even stood on Gloster Hill above the ImjinRiver with veterans of the Gloucestershire Regiment, hearing their blow-by-blow account of their heroic defence against overwhelming Chinese forces.

Few would argue that we were wrong to engage in that war.

(In passing, the North Korean situation is an interesting contrast to Syria.  North Korea has allowed millions of its citizens to starve to death — and most are hungry.  It has an estimated 200,000 citizens in the gulags under brutal and appalling conditions.  And it’s reported that their boy-leader Kim Jong Un, to please his wife, has just ordered the machine-gunning of his former lover and a dozen of his wife’s former singing partners. If we have a moral duty to bomb Assad, what about our moral duty in North Korea?)

Then Suez, in 1956. British Prime Minister Anthony Eden felt betrayed when the USA cut him off at the knees.  It pains me to say so, but the Americans were probably right to caution against the Suez invasion, and to stand back from it.

Then there was Vietnam.  The UK chose not to go into Vietnam alongside the Americans, and history clearly vindicated that decision.  I suspect that most Americans, with hindsight, wish they hadn’t gone either.

Then we come to modern times.  Iraq.  Afghanistan.  Libya.  And now Syria.  I suspect that there are rather few people who would state unequivocally that Iraq today is better off as a result of the war.  With hindsight, Tony Blair has rightly taken a lot of criticism, both for over-hyping the evidence of WMD, and for his uncritically subservient attitude to George W Bush.  As Cameron has done more recently, Blair made commitments to the US President which he ought not to have made before going through the motions in London.  The difference was this: that Blair nonetheless managed to deliver on the promises he had made in the White House.  Cameron, to his acute embarrassment, could not.

At least one news report suggested that Cameron had “apologised to Obama for the decision of parliament”.  I very much hope he did not — it would have been a constitutional outrage.  But he should indeed apologise to Obama for promising more than he was able to deliver.

Then Afghanistan, where surely our well-intentioned intervention is now looking like a failed and forlorn exercise in do-goodery.  This was Britain’s fourth military adventure in Afghanistan, and none has had a good outcome.  1839/42.  1878.  1919.  And then Russia’s dreadful experience.  Will we never learn?

Followed by Libya.  Did we make things better or worse?  The jury is still out.  But British troops are not yet out of Afghanistan, after twelve long years.

Clearly the British people and the British parliament have decided that we’ve had enough foreign adventures for the moment, and that there are good reasons not to bomb Syria.  They are entitled to make that decision, and I agree with it.  We remain firm allies of the US, but that doesn’t mean we always jump to the White House dog-whistle, any more than the Americans always support us without question.

The irony is that Obama himself may have exactly the same problem as Cameron.  Obama has been agonising and prevaricating over Syria.  He feels obliged to do something, following his rash “red line” warning.  But he knows that foreign military adventures are increasingly unpopular with his own constituency, and reportedly with his military.  80% of Americans think the President should seek Congressional approval for any action in Syria.  We’ll see if he can get it.

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13 Responses to “Death of the special relationship”? Poppycock!

  1. Eric Worrall says:

    I guess WMD are out of the bottle – nerve gas from Syria, highly enriched Uranium from Iran, goodness knows what from North Korea, or even corrupt military units in Russia.

    There is a solution though – distance. Our current home is protected from the centre of Brisbane by lots of hills and, though we are technically inside the city limits, distance. Our next home will be well outside the blast radius of even the largest H-bombs.

    A decade of commuting to London, breathing the smoke cloud of my burning fellow passengers on July 7th, watching the burning buildings during the London riots. The surreal feeling, commuting into work while the city burned, colleagues suddenly jumping up and leaving, because their wife just called, the rioters were a few yards down the street from their home – I had enough.

    I want to watch this kind of thing on TV, not be a participant.

    The future will be an age of superweapons in the hand of maniacs, and long distance telecommuting.

  2. I hear that Cameron is in 10 Downing Street sulking. In which case he should be given a bib. Whilst the evidence coming out of Syria is becoming increasingly compelling, it does not mean that we have to automatically jump to what is presented to us. I am in agreement that what is required is some kind of narrow, specifically targeted intervention against the Syrian leadership. We need to do this within a fairly immediate timeframe so that people who are lying their heads off about this matter (ie the Russians) cannot distract the world from the reality of what has occured.

  3. If the special relationship were that we always do what the US wants (& the US always does what the US wants) then it would be over, and good riddance.

    But it isn’t. It is primarily a cultural and linguistic relationship. We both have Parliamentary governments derived from George III’s.

    In that case the relationship may be strengthened. One of the changes from George III’s government is that they have a Constituion, which is literally & correctly venerated. The right to declare war is reserved to the Congress – one of the differences they introduced from George III. In Britain, up till now it has been the Royal, ie PM’s prerogative.

    To Quote Abraham Lincoln on the right to declare war:
    “This, our Convention understood to be the most oppressive of all Kingly oppressions; and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us. But your view destroys the whole matter, and places our President where kings have always stood.”

    Thus Britain deciding that Parliament must approve war making is not a repudiation of our special relationship but a massive endorsement of it as a cultural success. Which is far more important than the issue of the day.

    Paradoxically this part of the Constitution has been breached since at least the time of the Kosovo war which Clinton waged without reference to Congress.

    The reason for this is that the Imperator/Duce/President/Generalisimo/PM needs to be able to threaten war credibly if he is running an imperial state. For a century and a half after George III we did. Now the US is such and we aren’t.

    It is a tension which goes to the heart of whether a country is an Imperium or a Republic.

    The best thing Obama could do is the ask Congress’ permission too. If he doesn’t get it he is off the hook. If he does he will have the support nationally, and indeed internationally, he needs.

    Despite having the money, ships, aircraft and bombs the US is not a very good imperialist because their heart isn’t really in it. That is their saving grace.

  4. Mr . Obama is a weak and dangerous world leader.

    He is the latest in a long line of puppets following orders to take totalitarian control of the world out of FEAR of nuclear energy! The original decision was made sixty-right years (2013 – 1945 = 68 yrs) ago.

    Here is a one-page synopsis of the consequences to date:

    Click to access Synopsis.pdf

    More details were given in messages to the Congressional Space Science & Technology Committee last month:

    Click to access Creator_of_Life.pdf

    With kind regards,
    – Oliver K. Manuel
    Former NASA Principal
    Investigator for Apollo

  5. ancientpopeye says:

    Excellent summation but what about our moral duty in Zimbabwe?

  6. Many years ago I believe the EU told our government at the time that the `special relationship`with the USA had to be dissolved, we were `Europeans` now and the EU should have the `special relationship`! I don`t agree with going blind into Syria since these are `no win` situations, back one side, they lose, you are in the mire. But if this is the way our patriotic MP`s wish to obey the EU rule book then I hope the Yanks realise this and just see it as a glitch until the case is proved against the government of Syria, chemical weapons have been used but by whom?

  7. Jane Davies says:

    Took the words out of my mouth, ancientpopeye, why has Mugabe been allowed to murder his own people and ruin a once great country?
    No mention here of the price that comes with our Prime Ministers desire to strut around the world stage. In their haste to act like an old fashioned statesmen and suck up to the USA many good men and women will pay the price with their lives. But what the heck, as long as the likes of Blair and wannabe statesman Cameron get their names into the history books the lives of a few thousand troops are expendable.

  8. Mike Stallard says:

    I have just one thing to add:

    All the people who want us to go to war ought to ask themselves this question: “What regiment are you in?”

  9. Avellana says:

    The continual meddling of other countries’ politic, our fixation, and may I say, flirtation with the the U.S., our obvious inability to just take what is sensible for us and the leave the rest of the European religion to the Marxists and Green noodles. Just like other countries could we please just shut the door and then simply get on with sorting out our own back yards? Our obsession with being at the top table is over, over along time ago…..

  10. ex - Expat Colin says:

    Any chance the people in UK could be informed about progress in Libya now the BBC/Sky and any other journalist numb nuts have found another gravy train?

    No…..isn’t it.

  11. dave/r says:

    So much for Cameron and Hague, then!

    …and Obama, as well – if true!

    Question everything!


    Rebels Admit Responsibility for Chemical Weapons Attack

    Militants tell AP reporter they mishandled Saudi-supplied chemical weapons, causing accident
    Paul Joseph Watson
    August 30, 2013
    Syrian rebels in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta have admitted to Associated Press journalist Dale Gavlak that they were responsible for last week’s chemical weapons incident which western powers have blamed on Bashar Al-Assad’s forces, revealing that the casualties were the result of an accident caused by rebels mishandling chemical weapons provided to them by Saudi Arabia.

    “From numerous interviews with doctors, Ghouta residents, rebel fighters and their families….many believe that certain rebels received chemical weapons via the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and were responsible for carrying out the (deadly) gas attack,”writes Gavlak.
    Rebels told Gavlak that they were not properly trained on how to handle the chemical weapons or even told what they were. It appears as though the weapons were initially supposed to be given to the Al-Qaeda offshoot Jabhat al-Nusra.
    “We were very curious about these arms. And unfortunately, some of the fighters handled the weapons improperly and set off the explosions,” one militant named ‘J’ told Gavlak.
    His claims are echoed by another female fighter named ‘K’, who told Gavlak, “They didn’t tell us what these arms were or how to use them. We didn’t know they were chemical weapons. We never imagined they were chemical weapons.”
    Abu Abdel-Moneim, the father of an opposition rebel, also told Gavlak, “My son came to me two weeks ago asking what I thought the weapons were that he had been asked to carry,” describing them as having a “tube-like structure” while others were like a “huge gas bottle.” The father names the Saudi militant who provided the weapons as Abu Ayesha.
    According to Abdel-Moneim, the weapons exploded inside a tunnel, killing 12 rebels.
    “More than a dozen rebels interviewed reported that their salaries came from the Saudi government,” writes Gavlak.
    If accurate, this story could completely derail the United States’ rush to attack Syria which has been founded on the “undeniable” justification that Assad was behind the chemical weapons attack. Dale Gavlak’s credibility is very impressive. He has been a Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press for two decades and has also worked for National Public Radio (NPR).
    Saudi Arabia’s alleged role in providing rebels, whom they have vehemently backed at every turn, with chemical weapons, is no surprise given the revelations earlier this week that the Saudis threatened Russia with terror attacks at next year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi unless they abandoned support for the Syrian President.
    “I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us,” Prince Bandar allegedly told Vladimir Putin, the Telegraph reports.
    The Obama administration is set to present its intelligence findings today in an effort prove that Assad’s forces were behind last week’s attack, despite American officials admitting to the New York Times that there is no “smoking gun” that directly links President Assad to the attack.
    US intelligence officials also told the Associated Press that the intelligence proving Assad’s culpability is “no slam dunk.”
    As we reported earlier this week, intercepted intelligence revealed that the Syrian Defense Ministry was making “panicked” phone calls to Syria’s chemical weapons department demanding answers in the hours after the attack, suggesting that it was not ordered by Assad’s forces.

  12. David says:

    A labour MP, name of Flynn said during his speech in the debate that t blair should go away and keep quiet! I agree.

  13. David Foot says:

    I agree that not in every case we intervene, I agree that the Transatlantic Relationship has not been upheld and mostly the UK has been let down, but if we are all geared up to take a few shots mostly at the Syrian Air Force, that can’t be a bad thing. Ed and his wimpy men put a spanner in the works and stopped this limited humanitarian action and they have given the assassins free reign to napalm bomb school playgrounds, bread queues etc. We should make a stand against the use of chemical weapons and war crimes of the worst kind. It is wrong to buy the assassins time, I am sure that the evidence from Obama is different to that supplied about Iraq, and any way, if Sadam was still there how many more wars would he have started, and what weapons would he have developed (he did have and use chemical weapons quite a bit on Iran and his own people), and Afganistan.. does anyone advocate that we should have left Mulah Omah and Bin Laden running the place? Frankly I don’t understand what some people want..

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