Value in US-UK relationship 

Less than an hour after David Cameron became British prime minister last week, he got a congratulatory phone call from President Barack Obama. That was merely a courtesy. What the president said was not.

“As I told the prime minister,” Obama said in a statement, “the United States has no closer friend and ally than the United Kingdom, and I reiterated my deep and personal commitment to the special relationship between our two countries, a bond that has endured for generations and across party lines.”

Given Obama’s role in tearing down the once-formidable partnership between the U.S. and the U.K., his words may represent a significant shift in his foreign policy. Or, they could be diplomatic happy talk, signifying little.

The near-extinction of the “special relationship,” as Winston Churchill dubbed the American-British bond in 1946, has occurred in the past half-decade without noticeable angst either here or there. On the contrary, political leaders in both countries have foolishly abetted its decline.

Obama has done his part to downgrade ties to Britain. He avoided, until last week, mentioning the special relationship, and he ostentatiously sent a bust of Churchill in the Oval Office back to the British Embassy. For his part, Cameron said in 2006, on the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, that Britain “should be solid but not slavish in our friendship with America.” He said the British government under Tony Blair had become “uncritical allies of America,” this at a time when the war in Iraq had become unpopular in Britain.

The most offensive slight, however, was delivered in a written statement by the State Department in February. It declared the U.S. to be neutral in the dispute between Britain and Argentina over the Falkland Islands. “The United States recognizes the de facto U.K. administration of the islands but takes no position on the sovereignty claims of either party,” it said.

This infuriated the Brits, understandably so. Argentina has no legitimate claim to the Falklands, and the Kirchner regime in Argentina is both corrupt and noisily anti-American. The U.S. statement made sense only if the administration sought to curry favor with Argentina at the expense of a loyal ally.

And the administration’s stance, presumably approved by Obama, clashed sharply with President Ronald Reagan’s support for Britain during the Falklands War in 1982. Reagan, too, faced pressure from inside his administration to side with Argentina’s military government at the time. But he decided his relationship with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, his close friend and ally, was more important than anything that might be gained from backing Argentina or remaining neutral.

The Reagan-Thatcher alliance, a high point of the special relationship, exemplified the benefits for both countries of a tight and friendly association. Britain’s position in the world was enhanced and the U.S. was able to stand firm on issue after issue with a reliable ally at its side.

“For almost every British prime minister from Churchill on, it has been a major objective to influence the thinking of the president of the United States,” Geoffrey Smith wrote in his book “Reagan and Thatcher.” “For Britain the special relationship has meant a special opportunity to have an impact on American policy.” Indeed, Thatcher and Churchill had a significant influence, as did Blair in his relationship with Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

But, what does the U.S. get out of the partnership with a far less powerful country like Britain?

It’s true that American policy is more important to Britain than British policy is to America. But without its deep ties to the U.K., the U.S. 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  President George H.W. Bush not to “go wobbly” after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. He didn’t.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.

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Fred Barnes


Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard

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