An Island, Lost at Sea
Mcguire, Stryker, Newsweek International
Byline: Stryker Mcguire
Britain is obsessed with its 'special relationship' with the United States. It's time to let go.
Since the end of the Cold War, London has raised the same question every time a new head of state moved into the White House: how special will the so-called special relationship be this time around? So when Barack Obama spoke to Prime Minister Gordon Brown by telephone for 15 minutes the Friday after his inauguration, it was headline news in Britain (even though he also spoke to Stephen Harper of Canada and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia that same day, and earlier in the week had chatted with Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, and Israel's Ehud Olmert). Imagine, then, Brown's utter consternation in early February upon learning that the first world figure to actually shake the new president's hand was none other than Tony Blair, Brown's predecessor and longtime rival in the British political arena. The next morning the Telegraph put a photo of Obama and Blair on its front page with a caveat for the P.M.: IF YOU'RE GORDON, LOOK AWAY NOW.
What Brown and much of the commentariat are willfully ignoring in all of this is that the importance of the Anglo-American special relationship depends upon which end of the telescope you view it through. It's a big deal in Britain. But the term "special relationship" is almost entirely foreign to American ears. After all, the United States is increasingly Hispanic and increasingly wedded economically to Asia, and is bound to shift or at least broaden its longtime alliances. Aside from its friendship with Britain, the world's only superpower will naturally have a number of extraordinary bilateral relationships: with Japan and China (the two largest holders of U.S. debt), Saudi Arabia (oil) and Mexico (the single largest source of U.S. immigrants), to name just a few. It's no accident that Hillary Clinton's first trip abroad as secretary of state is not to Europe--the traditional destination--but to Asia.
This reality has only added to a British identity crisis that Blair once described as "post-empire malaise," the result of its decline as a world power over the course of the 20th century. He saw Britain's relationship with America as the way forward; Britain, he thought, could use its economic ties to the United States to strengthen its economy and maintain London's status as a world-class financial center. By partnering with Washington on the global stage, Britain could punch above its weight. Through the war in Kosovo and 9/11, Blair's strategy seemed to work. But his alliance with George Bush in Iraq backfired, and Britons were put off by what they saw as an unequal relationship in which Blair played poodle to Bush's top dog. …