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US-UK Relations: Still Tricky, Still Special

In God and Gold, I wrote about the special relationship between the UK and the US and compared them to the Walrus and the Carpenter characters in the poem by Lewis Carroll.  Every few years the British press indulges itself in an orgy of breast beating about the end of the ‘special relationship’ between the US and the UK.  It is over, they say; Britain and the US are too far apart.  The ‘special relationship’ was an illusion, say the Brits, born of nostalgia for Empire and the old days when Britain was still Great.

The odd partnership between Labour PM Tony Blair and Texas Republican George W. Bush horrified and stunned furious British lefties — and some on the right — who found Britain trapped in two unpopular wars and, they felt, dragging ingloriously behind the most hated US president in decades.  It also brought out what many Brits feel is the worst aspect of the special relationship: the lack of equality between the partners.

The British insist on analyzing the relationship in transactional terms: how much did Tony Blair ‘get’ for supporting George W. Bush in the Iraq War.  And the problem — from the British side — is always that Britain doesn’t get a whole lot in the way of specific concessions from the US.  This is why so many Brits on the left and the right feel that the special relationship is a pathetic delusion which allows the US to snooker one hapless PM after the next.

But the reality is that Britain and the US end up on the same side of so many questions because our interests and our values are broadly though not exactly aligned on most of the great questions around the world.  Thus in the last few days we’ve seen David Cameron attack Ahmadinejad and lean away from France and toward the US on the question of Palestine.

This isn’t because Cameron is angling for a reciprocal favor from the US; it is because as the head of the British government he believes that some policies which the US happens to support would also advance British interests.  The relationship endures because two island countries with global interests and a bent for capitalism have similar interests, and because on moral and social questions, the apple didn’t fall all that far from the tree.  The US and the UK aren’t identical twins or even siblings — but we remain close cousins even as both nations become more diverse, and we still tend to see the world in broadly similar ways.

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