Observations of an ex pat: The special relationship

One of my barometers for the health of the Special Relationship is a weekly broadcast I do for American talk stations. The host is Trumptonian Lockwood Phillips who also happens to be an old schoolmate. I am referred to as the Looney London Liberal by the vast majority of my 500,000 listeners who are staunch Trump supporters. They are just the sort of people I want to reach.

The purpose of the hour-long show is to provide a European assessment of American politics and to analyse events in Europe that should be of interest to American audiences. Normally the discussion between Lockwood and myself is reasonably civilised, although it occasionally slips into the gutter. Not so this week. It went straight to the gutter and stayed there. We were both shouting: “you’re wrong” or “you don’t know what you are talking about”several times, possibly more by me than Lockwood.

The cause of this plunge in civility was Ambassador Kim Darroch’s leaked confidential emails in which he described the Trump Administration as “inept” and “dysfunctional”. Actually the real cause of my anger was President Trump’s reaction in branding Ambassador Darroch as “pompous” and “widely disliked” and said that the White House would refuse to work with him during the six months before the ambassador’s retirement.

I know Kim Darroch. He is not pompous and he is widely liked and respected. So chalk that part of the tweet up as another presidential lie. But more importantly, why can’t the president keep his mouth shut? Why does he feel obligated to respond to every criticism? What drives him to escalate every political conflict into a personal attack?  Why can’t he perform the statesman’s role of taking it on the chin and uttering the words: “No comment?” Or at least avoid personal insults.

A “no comment” response would have been used by almost every other head of government because Ambassador Darroch was doing his job of providing a frank and candid assessment in a confidential memo. Lockwood maintained that Trump’s response was perfectly reasonable. I said that was ridiculous. The ambassador’s emails were confidential. Trump’s response could not have been more public. As Christopher Meyer, A former British ambassador in Washington, said: Kim Darroch was run out of town by President Trump.

Of course, he had some help from the man most likely to be Britain’s next prime minister. Who, by the way, is Trump’s stated favourite in the Tory party election race.  Repeatedly asked to back the ambassador, Johnson refused. Without the support of the man most likely to be prime minister on July 23, Darroch had no option but to resign.

The episode raises a host of questions. Who was the leaker? Why did they leak the emails? There is a long list of possibilities. It was the Russians, suggested Lockwood, trying to drive a wedge between Britain and America. Unlikely because the emails were leaked not hacked. It was a Brexiteer trying to remove a known Remainer from a key position before the 31 October deadline.  It was a Brexiteer trying to politicise the British civil and diplomatic service. If so, he has certainly hobbled it because every civil servant will now think twice about putting on paper the candid and frank opinions and advice that politicians need to make decisions.

It is impossible to fathom the motive until we know the identity of the leaker. But one thing we do know is that the leaked emails and Trump’s reaction has damaged Anglo-American relations.

One of my other hats is lecturing on the state of the Special Relationship. In this capacity I am constantly asked what effect President Trump is having. I trot out the party line that the relationship is bigger than any one person. Britain and America are joined at the hip – and just about every other conceivable body part—in trade, intelligence and security. Now we are dependent on it for a vital free trade deal in the wake of a no deal Brexit.

The Special Relationship is in danger of morphing into a reverse of the pre-1776 relationship. We are taking back control from Europe only to hand it over to the United States.

* ToTom Arms is the author of the Encyclopedia of the Cold War and is currently working on a major book on Anglo-American relations. He also broadcasts on foreign affairs for American radio and writes a regular column for US newspapers.

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5 Comments

  • Paul Barker 14th Jul '19 - 5:41pm

    As to why Trump couldn’t give a measured response, there are 2 reasons. Firstly he’s Trump & probably incapable of reacting any other way. Second, Trump is the prisoner of his supporters, he has to respond the way they expect, the way they would react if they had power; he can’t disappoint his posse without losing support.

  • John Marriott 14th Jul '19 - 9:23pm

    A quote from a relative of mine in New Jersey: “They say that cream rises to the top; but so does scum”.

    The ‘Special Relationship’ has been waning ever since FDR and Uncle Joe stitched up post war Europe at Yalta. Scroll forward to 1956 when Eisenhower pulled the plug on the Suez adventure by threatening the pound and then to the 1960s when Macmillan accepted Nuclear missiles that required US permission for their use.

    The Brexiteers talk about the U.K. being a vassal state of the EU if any ‘deal’ is passed. It would seem to me that, if they finally get their way, it’s more likely that any vassalage will involve the USA.

  • John Marriot,
    The two big pro-EU MPs, Major and Blair, were the most prone to seeing American and British interests as the same thing. I would argue Blair was especially fond of positioning Britain as a kind of mid-Atlantic hub and, like a lot of that Classic Rock generation, essentially equated American cultural/political ideas with modernity.

  • There is nothing wrong with having a friendly working relationship with the USA,but they do not regard us an equal partner and only want our support for their own interests, especially with regards to the present incumbent.

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