Make The Relationship Special Again
Published on: April 2, 2010
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  • Peter

    I think Mr. Mead is exactly correct in saying there is a special relationship between the U.S. and the Brits, one which I feel goes beyond cultural & traditional issues to include a deep spiritual root.

    And it is this latter linkage which will have the two countries walking the beaches of the world together like, say, the Walrus and the Carpenter (or brothers like Ephraim and Manasseh) for many years to come.

    (By the way, Mr. Mead, great imagery you used from ‘Through the Looking -Glass’. It was spot-on and was the most creative & insightful I’ve come across in many, many a year.)

  • Karl Maier

    I think the pressures of Great Depression 2.0 are more likely to break the EU up into its national units, than to strengthen what is an over regulated, inefficient, socialist, brittle, central command style organ. The monetary union is in deep trouble, (PIIGS) and when the Euro breaks, many of the newest members in the east will look elsewhere for their future.
    I don’t see the EU as a successful model for the future. The sooner it breaks apart the sooner something more flexible and adaptable can take its place. I don’t think the newly independent states want to be part of the inefficient socialist welfare state model. They have already experienced how badly that system performs, and are most receptive to the Capitalist system of the US. (I envy their flat income tax)
    A new US, UK marshal plan which provided matching funds for US, and UK company investment in democratic central and east European countries, would allow bilateral trade treaties separate from the restrictive, and over regulated EU. It would build and strengthen a buffer zone between the aggressive Russian and Moslem areas to the East and South. As well as provide necessary economic competition to a nearly moribund Western Europe.

  • Luke Lea

    “nobody is more likely to be there for us when the dark hour comes”

    That is the real heart of the matter.

    A quick note on “free trade.” There have always been winners and losers when trade restrictions are relaxed. The theory of comparative advantage merely states that the gains of the winners will outwiegh the losses of the losers — which means in theory that everyone can be made better off.

    However when the comparative advantage lies in a relative abundance of one of the two main factors of production — labor and capital — the losers are not in one industry only but across the factor as a whole. The gains are real (in terms of average GDP per capita) even as average real wages fall in the high-wage countries. In other words a redistribution of income from labor to capital takes place that is larger in volume than the gains of trade.

    I bring this up, Mr. Mead, because the consequences of doing business with China will be as big a challenge for Britain, and Europe, as for the United States (and Canada and all other high-wage countries in the world).

    There are alternatives to protectionism I hasten to add, but they necessarily involve a re-redistribution of income to undo the effects of trading with populous low-wage countries as big as China. We don’t know how to do income redistribution just yet, at least not in a way that is fair and efficient and that preserves the incentives to save and invest. In theory the answer is wage subsidies and a graduated consumption tax (like an income tax, but with savings exempt) as was embodied in the so-called USA Tax introduced by Senators Nunn and Domenici back in the 90’s. We need to take another look at that important piece of legislation. Those guys weren’t dolts.

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  • John

    It would be nice, Mr Mead, to correct your first sentence. It should say, “Et toi, Britain” instead of “et tu”.

    It is one of these small mistakes which can display in some people a lack of knowledge in French language and French affairs.
    You are not among them though, as inter alia many comments posted at AI prove it. Still, it is annoying, all the more than continental countries such as France are among the topics dealt with in the post.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      Thanks, John for the suggestion but I’ll leave it as it is. The reference is to a Latin phrase — attributed (incorrectly but frequently) to Julius Caesar when he realized that Brutus was among his assassins. It would be better Latin if the line were “Et tu, Brute?” since that is the vocative form of the name Brutus but the phrase is very commonly cited in the form I used. From somewhere dim in my memory comes the thought that Caesar’s last words were actually in Greek: kai sou teknon; “You, too, child?”. Brutus was rumored to be a natural son of Caesar who at one time had been a lover of his mother. However, if I had been trying to use French, your suggestion would be right.

  • joe

    Professor Mead, the strength of the special relationship is its lack of explicit policy goals. It has managed to survive for so long because it is based upon cultural affinity, shared economic principles and a fairly similar political culture. Outside of ’42-’45 and our common realization that absolutist ideologies can’t be tolerated, we do not have many specific policy goals in common. That is a great strength since we have arguably treated Japan and Germany better since WWII than the Brits and their national interests.
    The Brits are too quixotic about EU politics to allow for a sustained Anglo-American cooperative policy. For British politicians and academics, it is still very much a zero sum game. A new British government would pull out and the State department would be left holding the bag and the object of justified kvetching from Paris and Berlin. Until the Tories and Labour can agree on more than ‘save the rebate’, the American government would do well to stay put.

  • WigWag

    At the risk of sounding sycophantic, this is another in a long line of brilliant posts by Mead. His blog is truly indispensable. Let’s hope that someone in the Administration, preferably Hillary Clinton or the President himself, reads it regularly; they would certainly learn alot.

    We know that Obama and crew take what journalists say very seriously. We’ve heard that after months of excoriating the Administration on the stimulus bill and health care reform, Paul Krugman was invited in for a tet a tet with the President and Larry Summers. We’ve also heard that from time to time the President has invited Tom Friedman to chat over a round of golf.

    My suggestion is that Obama should invite Mead to a night at the opera; Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov’s “The Golden Cockerel” might be just perfect; it’s based on a story by Pushkin about a foolish king. At dinner before the opera or during drinks afterwards, Mead could school Obama about what an intelligent foreign policy should look like,

    Mead is right that shared values make the American-British relationship special and enduring. An excellent example of this is how differently Americans and British treat their Muslim citizens than the French, Germans and much of the rest of Europe,

    The Germans have a difficult relationship with their Turkish immigrants and their descendants. 8 of Germany’s 16 states place restrictions on the wearing of the Hajib and many Turkish residents feel alienated from German society. If anything, this is even truer in France, where President Sarkozy has made the banning of Muslim garb a cause celebre. In the Netherlands, Italy and even liberal Denmark, Muslim immigrants feel discriminated against and proposals are pending to ban the Hajib or the Burqua.

    The United Kingdom takes a much more relaxed approach to all of this. A large number of South Asian Muslims reside in London and the U.K. (like the United States) has experienced terrible Muslim terrorism.

    Despite this, we don’t see the emergence of far right political parties focused on Muslims like we do in France, the Netherlands and Germany. While Tony Blair and Jack Straw created a stir by criticizing the Hajib in 2006, we don’t see legislation proposed to ban Muslim garb. Nor do we see legislation enacted to ban minarets like we did in Switzerland.

    Although the U.K. has experienced home-grown terrorism, South Asians are integrated into British society better than Turks are in Germany or the Netherlands or than Algerians are in France.

    Like the United States, the United Kingdom is a far more tolerant nation than its European brethren.

    This seems like a good thing to base a special relationship on to me.

  • fw

    Enjoyable, as always. That there still exists a more rigid class structure in England, at least until relatively recently, is something I can attest to. In 1987, I was invited to the rowing regatta at Henley. The viewing stands were segmented into groups, which required special badges for admission, and the closer you got to the finish, the more rarified the social circle that the spectators belonged to. In the last section, you would have thought you’d walked onto a set from Brideshead Revisited, marred only by the fact that the Soviet men’s eight crushed all the other competitors.

    Race-wise, I’m not so sure. About ten years ago, I was with some friends from England–Oxbridge types who are very progressive on social issues–and they managed to occupy part of a two-hour drive upstate with Irish jokes, told with great relish.

    British wishes with respect to America were best conveyed in Love, Actually, where the Tony Blair figure portrayed by Hugh Grant tells off the Bush/Clinton figure played by Billy Bob Thornton. But if the British really did go their own way, would they really enjoy that much more prestige or influence? Does France, for all its Gaullist/anti-U.S. tendencies, wield greater influence?

  • fw

    One of the great things about Walter’s God and Gold, a history and analysis of the rise of the Anglo-Saxon powers, is that he weaves together a lot of themes that can be explored elsewhere in more specialized volumes.

    Adam Kirsch, a great literary critic at the New Republic and Tablet Magazine, gave a very positive review to a new book by Harvard prof Eric Nelson, which traces a lot British Enlightenment ideas about the proper form of government to a close analysis of the Hebrew bible by scholars of the period.

    Walter, I’d also be curious if you thought this new history of Christianity, by Diarmaid Maccullough, was worth a read.

  • I think generally most Americans on both Left and Right are willing to continue, nurture and have so called special relationship with Britain. Recent migrants like me from Sub Continent (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, etc.) are also equally supportive of a strong and special relationship between UK and USA; despite the colonial history.

    But I am not sure most Americans would be much supportive of core of Prof. Mead’s suggestion that USA generally back UK in it’s European project of being guardian of smaller states against over powering Russia and Germany. There are many complications in that. What Prof. Mead is forgetting here is it is much more beneficial for USA to have stronger and healthier relations with both Germany and Russia and that is what Obama is doing. In other words, willingness on part of Germany and Russia to accommodate American view point is present and it makes sense for America to take advantage of that. There is little bit forgetfulness of the fact that USA (despite all the reality of decline) is the Super Power and hence it can get what it wants in Europe by directly interacting with Russia and Germany and does not need to go through UK. On other hand it is much more negative for USA to try to meddle in Europe which strengthens UK at the cost of Germany, France or Russia. No matter, that is really no-no for USA. So far Americans have been wise enough not to get involved in Europe or with the strangled relationship of UK-EU. Literally there is no place for USA in that. USA will loose very badly if it tries any such silly endeavours.

    On the other hand if some one suggests USA should back UK against Argentina in Falkland dispute, that may make some sense. But again my hunch is Hillary may be knowing more, or is more mature in nurturing relations with S. American countries instead of allowing any nation outside of the Hemisphere to take advantage of strangled relationship between USA and Argentina due to Falkland dispute (if it sides with UK).

    This means indeed there needs to be different avenues where USA will need to find ways to strengthen relationship with UK. What is that apart from cultural aspects (which are great but nothing new)?

    As one starts thinking in that direction, one comes to a point in the end which goes to the heart of the core problem – how does UK want to define it’s place in today’s world? Economically and politically? It is matter of time before UK and France will loose their seats on UNSC. Economic challenges are well known. Really it is the Germany which is calling shots today and as things stand German future seems bright (and to that extent French too). Agreed EU is broken, but the way Germany is handling the Greece fiasco ruthlessly, even if EU shrinks it will deliver more to Germany. Germany has invested so far heavily in the European project, nurtured it for over half a century and today not at all hesitating in reaping benefits of all those investments.

    That kind of project is what UK needs to imagine and devise. It is unlikely to be in Europe. Commonwealth, Antarctica, etc. could be the political spaces to work on. (Or McCain idea of constellation of democracies…) In absence of that when UK itself is ‘lost at sea’, even if Americans want to restore ‘special relationship’, it is unclear how it can be done. Prof. Mead’s column is not convincing either.

  • mike flynn

    thanks for the treatise on anglo-american relations. all of this would be relevant to our collective future except for 2 hugely overshadowing facts: 1. as mentioned above by another commenter – the rise of china and the march toward “[low] wages” throughout the west. sure, capital will survive, but who will be enslaved, the whites or the [Muslims]?and 2. the apparently irreversible impending doom of the west given the rise of the islamic population throughout the west, exacerbated by the negative population growth of the native population. will the [Muslims] really continue on with the open, liberal societies and institutions they are inheriting from europe, then UK? will USA inculcate the growing hispanic cohort with the values that make USA the best ever? (high birth rate is a great start.) with these question open, traditional talk of anglo-american relations is academic.

  • Mike Flynn – is it only Muslims who are responsible for West’s decline? What about the disaster leadership at Vatican? This Pope intended to revive Christianity in Europe, but he is failing miserably and that is going to contribute to further decline of Christian character of Europe.

    So don’t you think defining West in more Secular Terms could be more meaningful? Because if you want to define that in terms Islam or Religion (which is the problem for Democracy like Israel too); then there is not much space for folks like me or at best secondary or consolation place. Apart from my personal loss, I am not sure such abrogation of rights of few in itself can revive West. (Did we not try that slavery in America?)

    Question is what do you want – Christian Europe with corrupt Leadership of Pope Benedict (I know Anglican Church, Lutheran and Greek Orthodox all these are competing churches in Europe and we have diaspora of Evangelical churches, Presbyterian and Episcopal Churches in USA; but taking Roman Catholicism as an example) or West where Muslims may be dominant but who are Secular in Public Sphere with equally creative at Democracy, Technology, Science and thriving Economy?

    For so long India has one of the largest population of Muslims and despite all the shameful Colonial History of pitting Hindus against Muslims; that country, that society learns to live a prosperous life.

    So really does it matter whether Muslims are growing in West?

  • Larison also posted on the Times article, taking the opposite position – It’s About Time:

    “Had Britain under Blair not become a lockstep supporter of Washington’s line on anti-terrorism, nonproliferation and regime change, and if Washington had therefore not had the fig leaf of British support and the political capital that came from Blair’s endorsement of the invasion, it is remotely possible that the invasion might never have taken place.”

    WRM, also note Daniel’s appearance in the comment section with a substantive response. That’s how you build a decent comment section, not correcting Latin vs. French or claiming no one understands your ironic understatement. Btw, on the internet, irony truly is dead. Best to stick to straightforward.

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