Magazine article The Spectator

The Price of Friendship

Magazine article The Spectator

The Price of Friendship

Article excerpt

There has always been a vein of antiAmericanism running through the British body politic. It is difficult for a parent to be superseded by its offspring, and the passage of several generations does not seem to have made it easier for the old country to accept that it now lies in the political, cultural and economic shadow of its former colony. Such sentiments have in the past found a champion at Westminster in the Labour party, although Tony Blair has been very careful to emphasise his commitment to the special relationship, both before and after becoming Prime Minister.

Now, Britain seems ready for another bout of mid-Atlantic angst. Members of the Cabinet, led by Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, are reported to be furious that Britain has unconditionally supported President Clinton's decision to bomb Afghanistan and the Sudan. On the face of it, Mr Cook, if that is indeed his view, and the many Labour backbenchers who undoubtedly share it, may have a point.

It does seem a remarkable coincidence that Mr Clinton's resolve to hit back against the terrorists who perpetrated the outrages in Kenya and Tanzania coincided with the height of his difficulties over Monica Lewinsky. Moreover, now that the attacks have gone ahead, Britain may find itself bearing the brunt of any retaliation by Islamic extremists. Already, two British children have been badly injured by a bomb in Cape Town, our embassy in Sudan has been stoned by mobs, and the British ambassador has been asked to leave.

Unlike the Americans, who are inclined to pull all their personnel out of a country at the first hint of trouble, the British foreign service is made of sterner stuff, and so may find itself the target of choice for terrorists around the world. Nor should we rule out bombs in London, which is home to a surprising number of militant Muslim groups, including some connected to Osama bin Laden.

At the same time, the American attacks provide a sharp contrast to events in Ulster, where the United States has persistently supported the nationalist cause and displayed a profound ignorance of the true state of affairs in the Province. Were Mr Blair to act against the Real IRA as the American armed forces have acted towards Mr bin Laden, we can be confident that America would be the first to join the chorus of condemnation.

But despite all this, the rise of antiAmerican feeling today is as misguided as it always has been in the past. We should be grateful that the US has the determination to strike against terrorists, and happy to stand shoulder to shoulder with them to fight for freedom and the rule of law. …

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