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Britain’s PM Wants Relationship with US Re-Evaluated
PARIS - "Nations have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies. Only permanent interests," Britain's Lord Palmerston famously said in the 19th century.
Contradicting Palmerston, Winston Churchill later proclaimed a "special relationship" between Britain and the United States, an undying bond of brotherhood, loyalty in war and friendship transcending politics.
This transatlantic myth has gripped both nations ever since. But Britain's new 43-year-old leader, Conservative David Cameron, has stated he wants U.S.-British relations re-evaluated and made more pragmatic.
In a sharply pointed reference to the era of Britain's former PM Tony Blair, the newly appointed Conservative foreign secretary, William Hague, called for Anglo-American relations that were "solid, not slavish."
Last month, a special multi-party parliamentary group suggested an end to the use of the term "special relationship" and a review of "unbalanced" (read: Onesided) U.S.-U.K. relations.
Britain's new deputy prime minister, Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg, said the time for "unthinking subservience to U.S. interests" was over. Clegg has long opposed Britain's involvement in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and Washington's one-sided Mideast policies.
U.S. President Barack Obama, who is interested in issues rather than personalities, has also been steering away from the Churchillian mythology of eternal Anglo-American brotherhood and has also urged more pragmatism in Atlantic relations.
After Obama took office, he ordered a bust of Churchill in the president's Oval Office removed. PM Gordon Brown got something of a cold shoulder in Washington.
It was not a slight, as Britain's media howled. Obama's attention was focused elsewhere, namely Afghanistan, the Mideast, India and China.
Britain is falling out of Washington's favour because it is no longer as useful as in the past. Cameron's new government must quickly slash $240 billion in spending or risk a Greek-style financial crisis.
There will be deep cuts in military spending, including aircraft carriers, submarines, nuclear forces, transport aircraft and money to wage war in Afghanistan.
The small but hard-fighting British Army has become the elite auxiliary to U.S. imperial forces abroad, the same role as Nepal's fierce Gurkhas played in the colonial armies of the British Raj.
But those days are over.
Many Britons, including Conservatives, were appalled by Tony Blair's servility and sycophancy towards President Bush and his arrant lies.
Proud Brits were rankled to hear Blair called "Bush's poodle," mocked as bootlickers by French and Germans and branded an American protectorate. Many Europeans shared DeGaulle's view of Britain as an American Trojan Horse whose mission was to sabotage European unity.
Britain has indeed been a quasi U.S. protectorate since the Second World War. The U.S. maintains key airbases in Britain with stockpiled nuclear weapons and long-ranged radar installations. Britain's nuclear arsenal, developed with secret U.S. assistance, is said to require Washington's permission before it can be used. Britain's military relies on U.S. intelligence, material, and technical support. Britain would probably have lost the Falklands War without Washington's secret supply of advanced Sidewinder air-toair missiles.
The world has changed.
In 1904, Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm II presciently predicted that 50 years hence, the mighty British Empire would be crushed between the weight of emerging America and Russia.
In 1914, the British Empire controlled a quarter of the globe. Two world wars championed by arch imperialist Winston Churchill, and the rise of American and Soviet power, put paid to the British Empire, upon which the sun never set. The end of Britain's imperial era came in 1956 when U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower ordered Britain (and allies France and Israel) to end their invasion of Egypt or face American-induced bankruptcy.
Britain remains an important mid-level power.
According to geopolitician Zbig Brzezinski, Britain provides American power a stepping stone onto the European continent, as does Japan in Asia.
The new Cameron-Clegg coalition will continue to favour the U.S. rather than the European Union, of which the U.K. is a half-hearted member.
But the days of seeing Anglo-U.S. relations through the rose-tinted glasses of emotions and patriotic propaganda are past.
Lord Palmerston was quite right.