Read My Lips

From Churchill to Deep Water: The U.S.-U.K. Special Relationship

Beneath the surface, how is the tried-and-tested U.S.-U.K. alliance a contentious affair?

Takeaways


  • "Britain gets nothing from the United States in return — other than Congressional cheers and a gold medal for the prime minister." (William Pfaff, International Herald Tribune columnist)
  • "Britain can ably serve as a bridge between the United States and Europe only if Washington needs one. But it no longer does." (Charles Kupchan, professor at Georgetown University)
  • "The British accent, to American ears, makes any word sound authoritative."
    (Michael Kinsley, Washington Post columnist)
  • "It's not a backward-looking or nostalgic relationship. It is one looking to the future." (William Hague, UK Foreign Secretary)
  • "For Britain, the role of the junior partner is uncomfortable, sometimes demeaning. It has been so for the half-a-century since Suez shredded any remaining great power pretensions." (Philip Stephens, Financial Times columnist, May 2010)

What is the general explanation for the close bilateral ties between Britain and the United States?

“We British not only speak the same language. We tend to think in the same way. We are more likely than anyone else to provide tea, sympathy — and troops.”

(Bruce Anderson, columnist for The Independent, April 2010)

Does Britain's prime minister believe in the special relationship?

"The U.S.-U.K. relationship is simple: It's strong because it delivers for both of us. The alliance is not sustained by our historical ties or blind loyalty. This is a partnership of choice that serves our national interests."

(British Prime Minister David Cameron, July 2010)

What does Britain get out of the deal?

“Perhaps the greatest benefit that Britain derives from the special relationship is the almost invisible security embrace — and close intelligence cooperation — that Washington gives only to its closest ally.”

(Kim R. Holmes and Nile Gardiner, Heritage Foundation scholars, January 2007)

Does everyone agree, though?

“Britain gets nothing from the United States in return — other than Congressional cheers and a gold medal for the prime minister.”

(William Pfaff, International Herald Tribune columnist, September 2003)

How has the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico strained the relationship?

"Mr. Obama has declared war on BP, and sought to represent this global company as some kind of British destructive force in the United States."

(John Redwood, Conservative member of the British parliament, July 2010)

Why else do some Brits take umbrage at U.S. criticism of BP?

"The bitter denunciations of British Petroleum seem incautious as long as the British army is helping with so many of America's wars. One day, that kind of hostility might just be reciprocated."

(Geoffrey Wheatcroft, British commentator, July 2010)

How has the special relationship been criticized in Britain?

"For Britain, the role of the junior partner is uncomfortable, sometimes demeaning. It has been so for the half-a-century since Suez shredded any remaining great power pretensions."

(Philip Stephens, Financial Times columnist, May 2010)

Is Britain as indispensable to the United States today as in the past?

"Britain can ably serve as a bridge between the United States and Europe only if Washington needs one. But it no longer does. Washington now has in Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy two Atlanticist leaders, and France has rejoined NATO's military structure."

(Charles Kupchan, professor of international affairs at Georgetown University, June 2010)

What's the opinion of the UK's Deputy Prime Minister?

"I think it’s sometimes rather embarrassing the way Conservative and Labour politicians talk in this kind of slavish way about the special relationship. If you speak to hard-nosed folk in Washington, they think ‘it’s a good relationship — but it’s not the special relationship.'"

(Then-UK Prime Ministerial candidate Nick Clegg, April 2010)

What is the explanation for this?

"The balmy (some would say baleful) days of Reagan-Thatcher, Clinton-Blair and Bush-Blair have passed. Nostalgia does not play in Barack Obama's White House."

(Philip Stephens, Financial Times columnist, May 2010)

What are the historical roots of the relationship?

“Remember when and where this alliance was forged — here in Europe, in World War II when Britain and America and every decent citizen in Europe joined forces to liberate Europe from the Nazi evil.”

(Tony Blair, then-British Prime Minister, November 2004)

And what was its historical importance?

“American support for Britain was the sort of enlightened selfishness that makes the wheels of history go around. It is the sort of enlightened selfishness that wins victories. Do you know why? Because we cannot live in a world alone — without friends and without allies.”

(Harold Ickes, Secretary of the Interior under U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt)

How did one of Britain's most vaunted leaders view the partnership?

"Bismarck once said the supreme fact of the 19th century was that Britain and the United States spoke the same language. Let us hope that the supreme fact of the 20th century is that they tread the same path."

(Winston Churchill, then-UK Prime Minister, 1952)

What is one general way the United States differs from Great Britain?

“I have found far greater enthusiasm for science in America than here in Britain. There is more enthusiasm for everything in America.”

(Stephen Hawking, British physicist, December 2004)

And finally, in bilateral relations, what is Britain's secret weapon?

“The British accent, to American ears, makes any word sound authoritative.”

(Michael Kinsley, Washington Post columnist, July 2003)

Editor's Note: This feature was originally published in The Globalist's subscription-only Executive Edition on June 7, 2010. To learn more about how you can receive the Executive Edition, click here.

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