|Brown's first meeting with Bush may mean the end of the 'special' affair
By CORRELLI BARNETT
27th July 2007
This weekend Gordon Brown meets George Bush for the first time as PM. So how should he treat the 'special relationship' that's always been cynically exploitative and ruthlessly one-sided?
Only five years ago, in the run-up to the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, the 'Special Relationship' between the United Kingdom and the United States seemed to be warmer and closer than even during World War II.
This was due above all to Tony Blair's personal wooing of George W. Bush - indeed to Blair's apparent adoration of the President, as revealed by countless photo- opportunities at the White House or at Camp David.
Yet today, in the aftermath of Blair's political demise, the future of the relationship is becoming a matter of fierce debate in Britain between loyal Atlanticists and the sceptics.
Tomorrow night Gordon Brown will meet President Bush for the first time since becoming Prime Minister.
He will do so at a time when Washington is troubled by doubts as to whether the special relationship will grow less special under his leadership - and more distant.
Should Britain simply recognise the obvious fact that her link with America, the world's only superpower, must be more important than with any other country?
That seems to be what the new Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, was hinting in a speech last week.
Or should British and American world policy continue to be 'joined at the hip', as in Tony Blair's time?
It is this degree of intimacy, personified by the 'buddy' relations between Bush and Blair, which sceptics like myself regard as so dangerous.
Certainly Winston Churchill during World War II and Margaret Thatcher in the last phase of the Cold War were careful to be on close and cordial terms with their opposite numbers, Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan.
But neither of them ever forgot that they were prime ministers of the United Kingdom, with separate national interests for which they fought hard and often successfully.
Never in word nor gesture did they sink into the dog-like deference shown by Blair towards Bush.
We cannot forget that for Blair 'the Special Relationship'(or perhaps his own relationship with Bush?)
was so paramount that he tamely connived in Washington's ill-judged decision in 2002-3 to topple Saddam Hussein - and did so even in the face of the profound doubts of the Labour Party and most of the British people about the wisdom of going to war.
We cannot forget that he also acquiesced in Washington's grotesque failure to plan and prepare for the postwar governance of Iraq, with all the appalling and unending human consequences we now have to live with.
In the event, Blair's extreme version of 'the special relationship' led to the shipwreck of his premiership, sunk before time by the nation's loathing and contempt for him because of the catastrophe that he had wrought in Iraq alongside George W. Bush.
But now Blair has gone, replaced as Prime Minister by that dour chunk of Scots granite, Gordon Brown.
In Washington, Bush himself struggles on, a lame duck still bravely quacking about ultimate victory in Iraq.
But the discredited neo-con architects of the Iraq catastrophe like Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld have fallen, their places round the President occupied by cooler heads such as Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State.
At the beginning of this new political era, it is therefore right that British politicians and the British public examine afresh the character of 'the special relationship', and ponder how to shape it for the future.
For a start, we should not fall for starry-eyed romantic gush about the joint destiny of the English-speaking peoples.
Of course we and the Americans have much in common culturally and politically.
After all, British tourists enjoy American holidays, while influential British-born academics love well-paid jobs in American universities.
And British professional groups, from parliamentarians to lawyers and accountants, love getting together with their American opposite numbers, especially in resorts like Palm Beach or Hawaii.
But none of this - repeat, none of this - has anything to do with the basic fact that the relationship between London and Washington is that of two nation-states.
The relationship is therefore not a matter of sentiment, or of friendship, but of corporate interests, which may sometimes coincide and sometimes not. Power, then, is the key.
And the hard historical fact is that 'the special relationship' was born out of desperate British need in 1940-41 for rescue from the Nazi peril by the industrial and military might of the United States.
Churchill knew that without American economic aid on the grand scale Britain would be unable to go on fighting Germany and Italy, let alone Japan as well.