US-UK Relations: Gasping for Air?


cameron and obama dc.jpgI am a believer in strong relations with Great Britain — which has been a key ally and partner of the US for many decades and with which America has deep historical and cultural connections.
But there is a point when the trappings that define a relationship look too frilly and antiquated to fit the modern world. UK-US relations need reinvention and need to be about something the world needs — which is something like delivering for real on Israel-Palestine peace or, perhaps alternatively, creative revision of the world’s global governance structures.
No two nations have been more important than the United Kingdom and the United States in defining the current world order and nearly all of its most vital global institutions. They built themselves in with stacked dacks of power — and need to somehow cede that power in new arrangements without necessarily losing influence.
That is how to take US-UK relations and put them on a new and potentially vital course.

The New York Times‘ Helene Cooper captures the kitsch-ish feel of the relationship in her piece on Prime Minister David Cameron’s first outing in his new role to DC. She writes:

It was not quite the Tony Blair-Bill Clinton love fest of 1997, but President Obama and the newly minted British prime minister, David Cameron, appeared game to do everything they could on Tuesday to take some of the recent chill out of the relationship between their countries.
Standing side by side in near-identical dark blue suits and blue ties in the East Room at the conclusion of Mr. Cameron’s first visit to the White House as his nation’s leader, the two fortysomethings systematically papered over the few areas of daylight between the United States and Britain (stimulus spending versus deficit reduction, the pace of withdrawal from Afghanistan, the need for an inquiry into the release by Scotland of the only person convicted in the Pan Am bombing over Lockerbie).
Instead, before the assembled press corps of Washington and Downing Street, they joked about cold beer versus warm beer, whether their children kept their bedrooms tidy and the England-United States World Cup soccer match that ended in a tie.

This is not the stuff of a vital, even special, or “truly special” relationship, as President Obama termed things.
Politico‘s Laura Rozen emailed me yesterday evening for a quote about Cameron’s visit and the challenges for UK-US relations, but I missed her deadline.
She seemed to like what I wrote, which I’ll share here while simultaneously expressing my admiration and support for the UK, its smart and clever diplomats, my many friends over there, and for my blogging friend, the former UK Foreign Minister David Miliband.
I wrote to Rozen:

The UK-US “special relationship” is one of those that gasps for air in a world that has moved to new arrangements. Their may be ego gratification in the relationship and occasionally constructive collaborations now and then, but on the whole, never has the UK-US relationship mattered so little to so many in a complicated world scene….

I think that this can be fixed — but first leaders of these great countries need to fix on challenges bigger than they are adopting now and throw themselves collectively into it.
Rewriting the rules and system of global governance would be the way to make this relationship relevant again and globally significant.
— Steve Clemons


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