President Obama Can't Neglect Great Britain

The United States can't afford to push our British allies to the back burner.

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U.S. Democratic presidential contender Senator Barack Obama, D-lll., left, talks with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown as they walk in Horseguards Parade behind the prime minister's official London residence No. 10 Downing Street, Saturday, July 26, 2008, London, England. Presidential contender Barack Obama is meeting with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on the last leg of his European and Middle Eastern tour. Obama is expected to speak with Brown about the war in Iraq and about strengthening ties between the United States and the United Kingdom.

Dr. Lamont Colucci is an associate professor of Politics at Ripon College, recent Fulbright Scholar to the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, and author of The National Security Doctrines of the American Presidency: How they Shape our Present and Future, among other books. You can find out more at lamontcolucci.com.

The issue of American allies is often neglected. The mainstream media has propagated a myth that during the George W. Bush years American alliances were hurt and dwindling. They continued the fable by promoting the idea that the current administration has "repaired" the relationship with our allies. Neither of these propositions is true. Not only has the current administration not bolstered the number of American allies, it has actually neglected and hurt the most important ones. In the next few months this column will focus on those alliances: Great Britain, Japan, Israel, Taiwan, Australia, and NATO. We have spent so much of our energy and effort focusing on America's enemies, we have forgotten that it takes much greater effort to support and bolster our friends; we have spent so much time complaining about America's burden, we have forgotten that American allies want American leadership, strong and steadfast. However, just as in any friendship, this requires sacrifice and sincerity.

If there is a real version of "American Foreign Policy 101" it would have a simple subtitle: "Be friends with the British." There is simply nothing more fundamental to the present or future of the United States than solidarity, friendship, and support for the United Kingdom. The antics by the current administration surrounding our relationship with the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are legion. It began with former Prime Minister Gordon Brown's 2009 visit and the removal of the bust of Prime Minister Winston Churchill from the Oval Office. These genesis events illustrated either a deep vein of naïveté or a gross miscalculation. This is why the removal of Churchill's bust from the White House was no mere act of whim, but either a calculated snub or incredible incompetence. The bust, given to the White House following the 9/11 attacks was a token of Anglo-American unity, and was a physical symbol of Churchill's rhetoric. Before leaving on his trip to America, Prime Minister Brown stated, "There is no international partnership in recent history that has served the world better than the special relationship between Britain and the United States." Here is the key point: "served the world better," not merely the two aforementioned nations. The entire system of international stability and order is predicated on this special relationship.

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The dust up regarding Prime Minister Brown's visit concerning the ill-conceived DVD gifts from the Obama's, the lack of a Camp David invitation, and the curtailment of the regular, important, and symbolic Star Spangled-Union Jack press conference, were all small indicators of the same problem that the return of the bust represented. Two explanations were hastily concocted. The first was that President Obama's aides were "unfamiliar" with the expectations of a visit by the most important American ally; the second explanation was that the White House had been too "overwhelmed" by the economic crisis to attend to foreign policy. Is either of these credible or possible? If we cannot get it right with the Brits, how can we dream of it anywhere else? The most disturbing piece to come out of this affair was the comment, reported by the Sunday Telegraph, of an unnamed State Department official involved with planning the prime minister's visit who was quoted as saying, "There is nothing special about Britain. You're just the same as the other 190 countries in the world. You shouldn't expect special treatment." Hope for a better relationship was frittered away when the administration presented Queen Elizabeth an iPod as a gift containing audio files of President Obama's speeches. This occurred while the first lady broke protocol by touching the queen, an act from an administration who enjoys lecturing the previous one on cultural sensitivities. In 2011 the president continued to speak at Buckingham Palace while the British national anthem was playing. These might all be brushed off as the actions of an inexperienced administration that fails to understand the basics of American foreign affairs. However, there is a darker, more pragmatic side as well. Currently, the anti-British attitude of the Obama administration most difficult to understand was and is over the Falkland Islands. The Falkland Islands are British; they re-established their sovereignty by force in 1982 with the help of the Reagan administration. The Obama administration is now pushing for Great Britain to enter into United Nations sponsored negotiations with Argentina to discuss the issue of sovereignty. If this is not an example of national security tone deafness, then there isn't one. There were 46,000 British troops fighting alongside the United States in Iraq and there are 9,000 British soldiers in Afghanistan. They have consistently been the second largest force fighting the global war on terror. More than any other country, they have faced the greatest threat of Islamic extremism inside of their own country. Many Americans and British take the relationship for granted. We have all heard the derision of the pseudo intellectuals with phrases such as "all the United States has is the British." If there is a book of phrases for ignoramuses, this should be in the top five.

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The Anglo-American special relationship is not just a set of realist shared interests, magnified exponentially by the war on terror, but also a shared cultural and political destiny rooted in Anglo-American ideas of natural law, liberty under law, and Western civilization. It was Winston Churchill in Fulton, Mo., who first made the phrase famous when he said, "Neither the sure prevention of war, nor the continuous rise of world organization will be gained without what I have called the fraternal association of the English-speaking peoples. This means a special relationship between the British Commonwealth and Empire and the United States. This is no time for generalities, and I will venture to be precise." This salient concept has guided American foreign policy and national security as the anchor for more than 50 years. The Obama administration's perceived coolness towards the British, if true, is a colossal misunderstanding of American history, culture, and politics and is, hopefully, not be an indicator of the new term or a new direction in American foreign policy, as this is not reminiscent of "hope" and "change," but of coarseness and childishness. The destiny of the English speaking peoples is only true and good if it is a shared destiny. The United States and the United Kingdom share that destiny more than any other. This will take all the blood, toil, tears, and sweat that both sides can muster.

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