hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Sunday, 13 June 2010

A Little Oil on Troubled Waters, Mr President?

Dear Mr President,

Do not lose Britain, Mr President. You have been rightly critical of BP given their failure to stem the flood of oil that is now disfiguring your southern coast, even though no American company could have done any better. However, BP is not Britain and sadly the rhetoric that is emerging from the White House, in particular, and Washington, in general, is giving the impression to a large swathe of moderate British opinion that an angry America is being assuaged by an attack on a loyal friend and ally. Britain is at a very delicate and vulnerable moment in its history as it seeks a balance between global influence and financial recovery. Whilst no-one would suggest that you are anti-British the perception that you are could result in a Britain that becomes little different from the host of other European allies who offer America rhetorical support, but little more. If that were to happen that would be a loss to America, to Europe and the wider world.

Certainly, these tensions come at a moment when the British are wondering why we should stand shoulder to shoulder with a country that many believe shows us less and less respect and seems ever less willing to listen to us. You know from your history that we are loyal and consistent but when roused we are dogged and determined.

You also know that we the British have stood by you Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan in spite of your country’s poor strategy and frankly appalling leadership these nine years past. We have allowed our sons and daughters to die alongside your own out of solidarity. It is a solidarity rightly founded on the belief that when a friend is in trouble we must and should be there. Of course, politicians in London have tried to present the struggles of the past nine years as posing an equal threat to the United Kingdom and the United States.

To some extent that is true because the monstrous marriage of fundamentalism, illicit capital, destructive technology and ungoverned spaces do pose a threat to us all. However, the perception amongst the mass of British people is that such threats pose a much greater threat to the US than to we British. Indeed, it is your very power that makes you much more a target, and it is our very closeness to you that makes us a target. Indeed, for many Britons the very presence of such large numbers of British troops in Afghanistan probably renders Britain more insecure given the anger it creates amongst our large Islamic community. As you know, we have already paid a very real price at home for our solidarity. The 2007 loss of fifty-two Britons to suicide bombers on the streets of London is eloquent and tragic testimony to that.

Furthermore, there is a widespread sense that we have pluckily stretched our much smaller military to virtual breaking point to support you whilst all the other allies have offered you little but shadow solidarity. In spite of such efforts all too often official Washington has been patronizing in the extreme about such efforts, too often unjustly dismissing our armed forces as inadequate and incompetent. Many Britons feel rightly aggrieved believing that says more about your inability to listen to a friend’s sage advice and the failure of your armed forces to respect others than our own military failings. The simple fact is that Britain is no longer a superpower, the British people know that but many also feel that it was the United States that did so much to end our world role after World War Two and resent the way in which America continues to need to write we British out of good history.

Thus, the Special Relationship is at a tipping point, Mr President and you had better realize that and fast. Why? Because you will pay a heavy price if you lose Britain and you could. We are still a power to be reckoned with but we face crippling financial challenges, partly as a result of the appalling behaviour of your banks. How you treat Britain over the next two to three years will do much to decide if Britain remains a European power willing to play a global role alongside you, or becomes another European strategic pretender.

The outcome of Britain’s inner debate matters, Mr President. Put simply, the world is a safer place when the West is strong and even today the bedrock upon which the transatlantic security relationship is built remains the Anglo-American relationship. Without it NATO for all its many flaws would be simply inconceivable. You lose Britain, you lose NATO. Do you really want that?

We British deeply regret what has happened in the Gulf of Mexico. That said, Mr President please understand the sensitivities and perceptions of millions of decent Britons whose instincts are always to stand alongside the United States. If not, physical pollution could well create political pollution in what remains the world’s most important strategic relationship.

With sincere respects,

Julian Lindley-French

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