Letter From America

Written By: Ian Williams
Published: June 17, 2017 Last modified: June 17, 2017

Maybe the so-called Special Relationship gets extra spirit from the Tory “understanding” with the DUP. In both Washington and London, the purported leaders of their countries do not have a mandate from a majority of the electorate, but both depend on the votes of bigoted anti-Diluvian evangelists, who do actually believe in the Flood described in The Bible, but do not believe in the flood lapping around their feet from sea ice melts.

The former Ian Paisley’s degree from the Bob Jones University did not endow him or the DUP with the ecumenism of modern American Evangelists who have now expediently forsworn their traditional anti-Papism to ally with reactionary Catholic Bishops against their common enemy – modern tolerance.

And both the DUP and Republican evangelical right in the US share an apocalyptic Christian Zionist view that makes them support Netanyahu and the far right in Israel. It is worth remembering that theological roots of this are not based on some sentimental philosemitism but on a reading of the book of Revelations that sees the gathering of the Jews in the Holy Land as a necessary precursor to the rapture, Armageddon and the Second Coming. It is only good for the Jews if you regard being converted to Christianity or being thoroughly smitten by a vengeful deity as a blessing.

Sadly, Trump’s unbounded admiration for Nigel Farage seems to have inhibited him from tweeting support for May. We can assume that a blessing from the US president might have lost her even more seats. Domestic resistance, even in his own party, tempers some of Trump’s policy eccentricities at home but the presidency’s powers over foreign policy give him more leeway abroad, although, even there, the foreign policy establishment has inhibited some of his wayward options. For example, although like so many previous presidents he promised to move the US Embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as Congress has mandated, the State Department’s residual attachment to international law has forced him to postpone it yet again.

However, Farage notwithstanding, the Trump administration has even less time than Obama for the so-called special relationship with Britain, a phrase very rarely heard in the US media except when Washington is looking for London to send sepoys to lend international flavour to yet another military folly.

However, we sometimes forget that the “special relationship” was very much a Labour invention. After fighting World War Two alone for over two years Ernest Bevin wanted NATO to cement an American commitment. Churchill condemned Attlee’s permission for US bases in Britain as a derogation of sovereignty while Attlee committed troops and treasure to support the US in Korea, even if that was mandated by the UN.

Suez showed who was in charge of that special relationship. Indeed, forgotten now, but newsworthy at the time was that Senator Joe McCarthy (and his sidekick Robert Kennedy) had Winston Churchill and the UK in their sites for trading with China during the Korean War. They pointed out that the tan­gential British contribution to the Chinese war effort probably equalled the value of the British input into the Korean war itself.

While on the one hand, Brexit adds cogent geopolitical reasoning for keeping friendly with the Americans, since the UK is now again just an isolated off-shore island, on the other hand Trump’s silence on the matter has devalued the US commitment to NATO’s common defence. Recent Tory miscalculations, on the referendum and the election do indeed suggest that belief in fairies is a strong component in conservative politics, but can even they believe that an isolationist Trump administration feels any special regard for Britain?

Geoffrey Howe at a UN briefing once explained that British foreign policy was the same now as in the days of Pitt – to ensure that no combination of powers could arise in Europe that could threaten our island, and I suspect that most conservative governments did indeed thwart and sabotage European unity with that in mind. EU foreign policy has almost always been a joke, depending as it did on consensus and thus effective abstention on controversial issues. Britain lost its empire and found a role as Washington’s Trojan horse in Brussels.

The current chaos suggests other possibilities. Perhaps it is time to audition for a new role, or rather resume the position of supporter of the UN Charter and international law. It is something that Labour should be thinking about, taking up where Robin Cook left off.

About Ian Williams

Ian Williams is Tribune's UN correspondent