Is ‘The Special Relationship’ On A Permanent Break?
Whilst the rest of the world may view Britain as just the U.S.A’s loyal poodle, that’s never been our view. It is a little known secret that inside our little island, the Establishment operate under the belief that the U.K in fact graciously allowed the U.S.A to become the dominate global power in the latter 20th Century. Having tired of running the world, Britannia in fact took an early retirement and happily pinpointed America to be her chosen successor. This has been the British coping mechanism after watching our geo-political influence disappear over the horizon with the sun, as it finally set on that old empire. When I attend my upper-class legal functions, masquerading as a respectable member of society, I am privy to conversations where old rich British men discuss international affairs. When the talk inevitably moves onto the U.S.A, they adopt the patronising tone and disapproving demeanour of a grand patriarch reprimanding his headstrong young son.
It’s not all the fault of the Brits though. In my time spent in the states, I have found that the delusions of grandeur are only reinforced by the way all things British are received in America. London, in particular, is spoken off as if you can still catch Eric Clapton and David Bowie zipping from Carnaby Street to Covent Garden in their union-jacked mini coopers. I had to shatter my American friends illusions and tell them of the widespread riots that recently happened in Europe’s most depressed country. If London is still swinging, its swinging from its noose. But British intellectuals continue to find there is still a pretty penny to be made from exploiting their nationality to woo American audiences, who equate their accents with intelligence . Would the thoughts of Niall Ferguson, Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins been given so much gravitas if they were young, up-and-coming professors from Wyoming?
This trade-off between cultural prestige and political influence has been the foundation upon which the post-war ‘special relationship’ was built. Britain has sought to position itself as not just another dependent satellite nation in the west but as a the ideological Godfather to the American experiment, in much the same manner that the Ancient Greeks were to Roman Empire. For the most part, the U.S has been happy to humour us Brits and really make us feel like the plain-jane the most popular guy in school just asked to the dance. Privileged Americans will make the pilgrimage to Oxford and Cambridge for their studies so that their Masters Degrees will sound even more pretentious than their Ivy league B.A’s. U.S Presidents from Reagan to Clinton to Bush jr. have allowed British Prime Ministers to be the Robin to their Batman on the world stage, giving the likes of Mrs thatcher and Mr Blair an elevated place in history.
However, of late, the special relationship appears to be well and truly ‘on a break,’ at least at the political level. Obama and Cameron, for all their unity on the ping-pong table, have ideologically different positions regarding tackling the great crisis of this era, the global recession. Cameron is pushing a programme of austerity, while Obama believes in stimulating the economy via the state. They also disagree over Britain’s role future affairs of Europe and the Falklands. Both leaders spend little time discussing ‘the special relationship’ so enthusiastically promoted by their predecessors. This isn’t just a damp-squid pairing, the special relationship wouldn’t get a second honeymoon if it was Mitt Romney and Ed Miliband running the show either. The growing distance between the U.K and the U.S is reflective a changing geo-political framework that is developing in this 21st century. The U.S.A and Europe- with Britain as the bridge- no longer form the axis upon which the rest of the world turns. The spectacular economic rise of China and India gives those nations significant political power that is only going to grow in the coming decades. Latin America is also in the midst of a economic explosion that is reflected in the growing unity and confidence amongst its leaders. The U.S.A must adapt to these changes in order to successfully negotiate this new globalized world and this may cause it to distance itself from the old country and find new allies.
Finally, the U.S.A is also responding to its internal changes that may be leading it further away from the U.K. The shared lineage between the British and America always implicitly referred to the Anglo-Saxon portion of the American population and in Obama we see a President who perceived as being representative of a different narrative in the American story. This is not to parrot Dinesh D’Souza’s deluded gibberish about Obama being a Mau Mau supporting, Queen Mother insulting, Muslim, socialist Black supremacist. But it is trying to examine the effects of the political rise of the Obama consensus- African Americans, Hispanics, Women, Young people, LGBT’s- upon who the U.S.A sees as its allies. As mentioned earlier, the rise of Latin America can’t be ignored especially when combined the predicted demographic changes in the U.S, spurred on by the growing hispanic population. Could future American leaders start to look south when looking for natural allies? For me, the old U.K-U.S.A special relationship always carried with it an air of desperation, an attempt by the two nations to team up and together try and halt the freight train of history. But as a day trip to the divorce courts will tell you, no relationship stays special for ever. Superpowers rise and fall, alliances and rivals change with the times. In in the 21st century of crumbling borders and multi national identities, it could be time for the U.K and U.S.A to accept their relationship is at an end and try ‘seeing other people’ for a while.