STILL NOT ABLE TO GET ON LINE HERE IN LONDON, but I have had an interesting week, some of which is worth reporting. . .discreetly.
First of all, the British are overall not pleased with Bush or the U.S. One of my well-placed government friends commented that while many Europeans regretted earlier episodes of fanatical anti-Americanism and were swinging back towards a “collaborative spirit” with the U.S., the opposite is unfolding in Britain.
Whereas the UK stood by President Bush and the U.S. in the Iraq War and many felt that the special relationship with America required Britain to take that stand, even in a bad war, polls show that the British really detest Bush. Apparently, polling is showing that, over time, this anger at the American president is morphing into full-fledged anti-Americanism.
My friends — who are pretty close to Tony Blair though don’t speak for him — worry that the re-election of George W. Bush will dramatically energize these currents of anti-Americanism and significantly harm this important relationship.
Tony Blair was in Tuscany vacationing these last several days but stayed close to his staff on national security matters. The British have lost three military staff in Basra these last several weeks — after not having had any killed for several months (in dramatic contrast with the U.S.) — and are seriously worried that the conflict in Najaf could incite Shia sympathy and insurgency throughout Iraq.
Several senior officials repeated the same fear that this stand-off between Iraqi national guardsmen (guided and backed by U.S. military detachments) and Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has all of the ingredients of a “Middle East Waco.” They fear that any assault by the Iraqi National Guard and U.S. troops could trigger al-Sadr to blow up the Najaf Shrine, making it look like the U.S. did it.
As I am currently on a plane back to Washington, I have no idea whether there has been further action in Najaf, but many in Blair’s world are worried that the price of being America’s most dependable ally is becoming very high.
Working through these themes, my colleague Michael Lind has a thoughtful op-ed in the 23 August Financial Times, “The Atlantic is Becoming Even Wider” in which he argues that while America and Britain are converging in a lot of cosmetic ways, geo-strategically, they are set on divergent courses. Lind, like Charles Kupchan, and many others believe that the forces driving a wedge in the transatlantic UK-US relationship are fundamental and not sensitive to a personality switch in the White House.
However, many over in London see Kerry as the only potential relief on the horizon who might set the special relationship back on some positive course.
One of the interesting observations shared by another government friend is that those in British circles most sympathetic to neoconservative thinking are those who want the UK to preserve full British sovereignty and avoid further entanglement in what they see as the mess evolving in Europe. Those most opposed to neocons support the European project and think that the best way for the UK to maintain influence is to become a greater part of the rule-writing and management process evolving in Brussels.
While the British don’t really have neoconservatives, their British nationalists have made common cause with our neocons. Strangely, those Brits who want John Kerry to be the next president are those most committed to a strong Europe and to a demotion of the American relationship.
The UK-US relationship is clearly headed for greater complexity. I’m going to need to call Andrew Sullivan when I get back.
— Steve Clemons