how the world sees america

Anglo-American Relations In the Brown Era

Guest blogger for How England Sees America

by J. Clive Matthews of Nosemonkey/Europhobia

While Blair got on well with both Clinton and Bush, giving the US/UK friendship its most cozy love-in since the Thatcher/Reagan era, Brown is a bit of an unknown quantity.

Concerns have already been raised over some of Brown's ministerial appointments -- notably that of former UN Deputy Secretary-General Sir Mark Malloch-Brown as Minister of State with responsibility for Africa, Asia and the United Nations, whose critical comments about the attitudes of some sections of America towards the United Nations last year led to a strongly-worded official complaint by the then U.S. envoy to the UN, John Bolton.

Likewise, Brown's new right-hand man and campaign leader, Jack Straw, fell out of favor with the U.S. while Foreign Secretary under Blair for comments about American policy towards Iran, with some suggesting that he was removed from his post at the request of the Bush administration.

It's also pretty much a given that such is the unpopularity of the Iraq war and the Bush presidency in the UK that to move away from Blair's heavily pro-U.S. approach is likely to be a vote-winner.

But, at the same time, the new Foreign Secretary David Miliband took a Masters in Political Science at MIT and even adopted an American baby three years ago, and Brown himself has not only long taken annual family holidays in the States, but also helped provide the funding for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars while Chancellor.

Equally, the recent failed terrorist attacks in London and Glasgow, within days of Brown coming to office, combined with the ongoing problems in Iraq and Afghanistan will ensure that continued Anglo-American collaboration in the war against terror is essential -- Brown's new security minister this weekend warning of a fifteen-year fight.

One thing that is certain is that Brown seems more inclined to cozy up to the U.S. than the EU, where he has long been regarded as a borderline Euroskeptic for his reluctance to join the Euro (the famous "five economic tests") and repeated refusal to allow Brussels any say in British taxation policy. To maintain the viability of Britain's current peripheral involvement with the EU, closeness to the US as a transatlantic counterbalance is pretty much essential.

But although Brown is a fan of the US on a personal level, Anglo-American relationships have always been based largely on personal relationships - Churchill, for example, getting on very well with FDR during the 1940s, but less well with Eisenhower during his second time as Prime Minister from 1951-55 (largely thanks to Eisenhower's frustration with some of Churchill's military ideas, notably the invasion of Norway, during the Second World War), leading to a breakdown in the "Special Relationship" during the 1950s that culminated in the United States' key role in the failure of the Suez Campaign.

Brown's reputation as dour, austere and highly intelligent without much of a sense of fun, is almost the exact opposite of George W Bush's fun and outgoing, almost anti-intellectual and irreverent personality. It's hard to imagine the two sharing a joke over a meal in the way that Bush and Blair always seemed to get on - but then, it's pretty hard to imagine Brown sharing a joke with anyone...

Although it's easy to look at Mark Malloch-Brown and Jack Straw and assume that Brown's shifting to a more anti-American stance, he's far too canny to do anything that simple. During the limbo period before the Democrats and Republicans pick their candidates for next year's U.S. presidential elections, he's going to be hedging his bets -- because Brown is nothing if not a pragmatist, and knows full well that it is mostly with the next president that he is mostly going to have to work (assuming he wins another term in office in 2009/10).

Anglo-American relations are certainly going to cool a bit for the next few months. But then that was inevitable -- the "Special Relationship" itself is something of a myth anyway, with most of the 20th century seeing the U.S. and UK at best only cordial in their friendships, with genuinely friendly relations only really existing during the First and Second World Wars, the 1980s and the Blair years.

What the long-term result of Brown's premiership is going to be for Anglo-American relations we won't know until it becomes clear who's likely to emerge as the next president -- but rest assured that after the primaries are out of the way, Brown's going to be sucking up to both candidates like there's no tomorrow. His only other option is to get closer to the EU -- and that would be electoral suicide.

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Comments (2)


As a natural born conservative, I look forward to the Brown/Bush relationship. I believe that we finally have a PM with the common sense and courage to stand up to the Bush administration.

Likewise, I can't see any 'sucking up' going on. Unlike Blair, Brown will gain credibility by not bending on one knee and cowtowing to American wishes.

And remember, Gordon Brown has a typically Scottish sense of humour. Whether or not Bush 'gets it' will remain to be seen.

california condor:

The American vulgarism "sucking up" has no place on this blog. May we dispense with it, please? Nor does it have any place in Ango-American relations. If Brown turns into the kind of Bush lapdog that Blair betokened, then his reign will be short indeed. Surely the British people must have better sense than to be led into remaining a satellite of a decaying and dissolute empire. Surely they will see their most tranquil haven in the European Community where the spirit of the West still glimmers and flickers.

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