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What will Britain's government do about 'slavish' relations with U.S.?

So what does it mean not to be a “slavish” ally of the United States?

For Washington, that seems to be the salient question from the formation Britain’s first coalition government in half a century, led by Conservative David Cameron. Cameron and his Liberal Democratic partner, Nick Clegg, disagree on a lot of foreign and security matters: whether to move closer to the European Union, for example, or whether to replace Britain’s nuclear-armed Trident submarines.

But on one point, they are in apparent accord: Britain’s relationship with the United States, while still “special,” will no longer be “slavish.” That provocative term was brought up during one of the campaign debates by the more dovish Clegg, who said: “I think it’s sometimes rather embarrassing the way Conservative and Labor politicians talk in this kind of slavish way about the special relationship.” On Wednesday it was picked up by the new foreign secretary of the traditionally pro-American Conservatives, William Hague, who said the relationship should be “solid but not slavish.”

So has Britain gone wobbly on the trans-Atlantic alliance? Probably not. As Dan Balz points out today, both British and American policymakers perceive the need to strengthen ties to emerging powers such as China and India; Cameron has even called for a “special relationship” with India. Britain also faces an even more severe budget crisis than the United States, and an upcoming review of its defense establishment may lead to cuts that would reduce its capacity to support U.S.-led military missions.

However, all of the British parties currently support the war in Afghanistan, where Britain is the second-biggest troop contributor after the United States and plays a vital role in the southern provinces where fighting is heaviest. Nor is the new government likely to step back from the war on terrorism -- Britain faces the same threat from Islamic extremists based in Pakistan’s tribal territories, and from citizens attracted to that cause, as does the United States.

There is one big issue, however, in which the renunciation of “slavishness” could turn out to mean something: Iran.

When Clegg, Cameron and Hague talk about excessive deference to the United States, what they are mostly referring to is the decision by Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair to support the invasion of Iraq -- a step that was deeply unpopular in Britain and led to Blair’s condemnation as “George Bush’s poodle” by much of the chattering classes. British troops are now long gone from Iraq, and they suffered nothing like the casualties of U.S. forces -- 179 were killed, compared to more than 4,000 Americans.

Nonetheless, the poison of Iraq lingers on in British politics: an official inquest into the war produced months of headlines earlier this year, many of them reviving the “poodle” charges. The result is that the next time the United States turns to Britain for help in a difficult military expedition, it could get turned down.

Iran is the most likely scenario. Though the Obama administration clearly has no intention at the moment of taking military action to stop Tehran’s nuclear weapons program, it could come under pressure to do so within a year or two, if the current policy of sanctions fails, or if Iran takes provocative steps such as expelling U.N. inspectors. Israel may decide to launch its own attack, forcing U.S. intervention. In any such situation, the United States will look for help from allies in securing the Persian Gulf and containing an Iranian backlash.

Will the “special relationship” hold in that extreme case? Or will that be the moment when Britain’s awkward coalition government decides not to be “slavish”? Let’s hope we don’t have to find out.

By Jackson Diehl  | May 12, 2010; 12:08 PM ET
Categories:  Diehl  | Tags:  Jackson Diehl  
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Comments

I sure hope the Obamas select better gifts for the Camerons than they did for Browns - what a disgrace that was!

Posted by: gavlonitis | May 12, 2010 1:39 PM | Report abuse

I hope the Obamas' gifts to the Camerons are better than the ones they selected for the Browns....

Posted by: gavlonitis | May 12, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

From pro-EU Clegg, ending the "slavish" closeness means a closer alignment with Berlin, Paris, etc.

From Cameron, it means "We're not Labor."

This coalition is not going to last long enough to shape substantive foreign policy shifts.

Posted by: j3hess | May 12, 2010 1:59 PM | Report abuse

There's a new book, on anti-semitism in England, by Juliuis.

SO SUDDENLY, THE ZIONISTS LIKE DIEHL
start dissing the the US relatshipship with
our stanunch and always ally. Like some jealous little twit who thinks Israel
should be our best friend.

GET USED TO IT, DIEHL. The whole world is anti semitic, hates Israel as well,
and it's only increasing.

These little zionist campaigns in the WaPo are disgusting. And, they are backfiring.

WHAT a boon to mankind, and to the used and abused United States, Israel has been. Also the likes of Diehl.

Posted by: whistling | May 12, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

`Slavish ally?' I think not.

Our Rookie-in-Chief has punked our best allies and then kissed our enemies on the mouth, and bowed to the rest.

Our allies should sit out the rest of this rube's term.

Posted by: AlongTheWatchTowers | May 12, 2010 2:38 PM | Report abuse

`Slavish ally?' I think not.

Our Rookie-in-Chief has punked our best allies and then kissed our enemies on the mouth, and bowed to the rest.

Our allies should sit out the rest of this rube's term.

Posted by: AlongTheWatchTowers | May 12, 2010 2:39 PM | Report abuse

"...if Iran takes provocative steps such as expelling U.N. inspectors. Israel may decide to launch its own attack, forcing U.S. intervention."

What intervention? Will the US bomb Israel, in retaliation for attacking Iran?

(just kidding)

How about this:

"...if ISRAEL takes provocative steps such as not allowing U.N. inspectors, IRAN may decide to launch its own attack, forcing U.S. intervention."

Hypocrisy. Pure and classic American hypocrisy.

"Slavish" means that "allies" are required to eat American b.s., time and again.

If Britain's new government can get rid of American b.s., that would be a very liberating action.

Posted by: tropicalfolk | May 12, 2010 2:39 PM | Report abuse


It takes someone as viciiously single minded as Israel firster Diehl
to turn Britain's election into another plug and prediction for bombing Iran.

We ain't going to, Diehl. The US population and the populations of the world would rise up with rage.
A chance to avenge Gaza, too, finally.

Posted by: whistling | May 12, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

The Afghan War is an unmitigated disaster for both the US and the UK. All it does is to create an incentive, motivation and outrage for foreign born domestic terrorists to try to blow up New York and London.

Why are the English following our lead down the slippery slopes of a disastrous foreign policy? It is time for them to grow up.

Posted by: alance | May 12, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

I think we consider Britain more of our lap dog than slavish. Sit. good boy.

Posted by: aliaghili | May 12, 2010 3:57 PM | Report abuse

The left had to do something to explain President Bush and later President Obama when they wanted to win the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. They had to be nuts.

(Pardon me. Irrational. They thought the USA could win.)

Then they had to explain British support.

So the word is "slavish."

It might as well be loyal ally, as in the first Gulf War. Or all the other times before.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | May 12, 2010 5:53 PM | Report abuse

"A chance to avenge Gaza, too, finally."

Revenge is for children and idiots. What they need is two states and cooperation to lead to a future entente which will mean economic progress and a bright new future.

Peace.

That is what they are talking about.


Posted by: GaryEMasters | May 12, 2010 5:58 PM | Report abuse

Oh, I don't know.

Most Brits actually like Americans.

They don't like the French and the Germans at all.

Never have and never will, no matter what Clegg thinks.

Posted by: corco02az | May 13, 2010 6:19 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Brown will have plenty of time now to enjoy the lovely DVDs Oboobma gave him — or does he have to leave those behind?

Posted by: thebump | May 13, 2010 7:36 AM | Report abuse

There are many people in the UK who wish to be more realistic about Britain's role in the world. They see it as necessary to match our economic capabilities to the role we play in international affairs: i.e we are no longer able to sustain both the commitment to nuclear deterrence in the form of Trident firing submarines whilst taking part in international "policing" operations. We need to tailor our armed forces expenditure to equipment which will provide for limited on the ground actions short of full scale invasions to protect our legitimate interests. We need to be closer integrated into our near neighbours' forces

Posted by: dickthickett1 | May 13, 2010 7:50 AM | Report abuse

Obama and the libs are so bad they are changing elections in other countries.

Posted by: samuellenn | May 13, 2010 8:51 AM | Report abuse

Obama and the libs are so bad they are changing elections in other countries.

Posted by: samuellenn | May 13, 2010 8:54 AM | Report abuse

The dead hands of Bush and Cheney reach from beyond their political grave. It's amazing how badly they could make our best allies hate our guts. But that's what you get with paranoia.

The UK pubic also detested our spineless and reflexive backing of Israel when it laid siege to Lebanon and Gaza. Because the UK media is much more objective than the US media, the UK public saw what was really going on, that Israel was inflicting mass collective punishment on innocent people.

The US, due the power of The Israel Lobby and the Ahmadinhejad-esque end-time vision of George W, was force fed a steady diet of propaganda. Poor little Israel, defending itself against Islamo-fascist terrorists. Oh, poor little Israel, acting with such self-restraint.

The UK knew the truth, but watched Blair sit contentedly in W's lap. Good boy, Tony, now go fetch me my orders from AIPAC.

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Posted by: eewyyortwetrytret | May 13, 2010 9:48 AM | Report abuse

"Nor is the new government likely to step back from the war on terrorism -- Britain faces the same threat from Islamic extremists based in Pakistan’s tribal territories, and from citizens attracted to that cause, as does the United States."

It's amazing how Diehl uncritically swallows this tripe when every fact points in the opposite direction.

Nobody in the west has been attacked by extremists from Pakistan's tribal territories. Both terror attacks in Britain, and all the busted plots, came from BRITISH Muslims who were wound up over the invasion of IRAQ.
Likewise the Madrid bombers, Spanish Muslims mad at the Iraq war.
All the terror attacks in Europe have been by LOCAL Muslims against countries that invaded IRAQ, and in each case the apprehended bombers have pointed to Iraq as their motive.

Britain's staying in the "War on Terror" is the worst way to prevent terrorism. How does Britain making war in AfPak prevent BRITISH Muslims from hatching plots? It can't, it can only provoke more plots.

If there had been no British participation in the Iraq war, there would have been no terror attacks in Britain. Period.

Posted by: JenDray | May 13, 2010 10:26 AM | Report abuse

apartheid israel lobby is bleeding the US in endless wars to support apartheid israeli ongoing ethnic cleansing of palestinians. iraq war was designed by neocons - israel lobby - with
a devastating result for US reputation.

Posted by: MumboJumboo | May 13, 2010 10:32 AM | Report abuse

dihel is a neocon zionist, he was beating war drums for iraq war. Now he is doing same for the iran war. All this zionist care about is enabling the ongoing ethnic cleansing of palestinians
by his beloved apartheid israel. Neocons are willing to defend israel to the last american standing, this will lead to china becoming new superpower.

Posted by: MumboJumboo | May 13, 2010 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Hah! The last "special relationship" between Britain and India didn't go so well...

Posted by: leilaash | May 13, 2010 10:37 AM | Report abuse

It is about time the Brits stopped playing Tonto to our Lone Ranger.

Posted by: dataflunky | May 13, 2010 11:07 AM | Report abuse

GOOD. If Britain is no longer willing to play tag along on our endless foreign policy mishaps then it will only draw attention to our citizens the basic fact that a fair amount of our foreign policy is counter productive when it comes to the Middle East.

The coalition of the willing for a reckless bombing campaign of Iran should be one nation and one nation only. ISRAEL. You want war so badly??? Do it yourself.

Posted by: theobserver4 | May 13, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse

The Brits will sort out their relationship with the U.S. very well, thank you. It's time for the U.S. to review some of its own "special" relationships. Diehl says Israel may decide to launch its own attack on Iran "forcing U.S. intervention". How poodle-in-the-lap "slavish" is that?

Posted by: soulcrusher | May 13, 2010 5:10 PM | Report abuse

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