Monday, 30 July 2007

Bush-Brown Camp David accords

Britain's static post-Blair foreign policy with the US: same old thing (?)

On Sunday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown traveled to the United States for a meeting with President George Bush at Camp David. This if the first official meeting between Brown and Bush; it's hard to forget how close Brown's predecessor, Tony Blair, was to Bush. Today Brown will address the United Nations in New York — but the bigger news, of course, is how his relationship with the US is shaping out. If it is any indicator of the possible unchanging rhetorical lip-service policy that carried over from Blair to Brown, Brown stated last night that, as the BBC reported, 'the world owes a debt to the United States for its leadership in the fight against international terrorism'. (Who exactly is the US leading?) Superficially nothing much seems to have changed, except Brown wearing a suit as compared to Blair's Chinos; policy-wise it gets more complicated.

There has been plenty of speculation lately about the shift in relations between Britain and America. A report that the UK had been basically used for questionable activity by the US in its 'war on terror' had many, including me, talking about whether the signals of the end of the "special relationship" are valid. The BBC's political editor, Nick Robinson, pointed out the lose-lose issue of Brown placating both the US and his electorate (from above BBC article):

Analysts will be looking for signs of the Brown regime distancing itself from the US during the trip.
BBC political editor Nick Robinson said Mr Brown was "walking a tightrope" in his dealings with America. ["He's doing all he can to signal to people at home that the Brown/Bush relationship will be very different to the Blair/Bush partnership, whilst striving to reassure the Americans that nothing fundamental has changed.
"The Americans are likely to seek reassurances about Gordon Brown's plans for the country that dare not be mentioned."]
He needed to reassure Mr Bush of his commitment to the Atlantic relationship as well as convince British voters that links between the US and the UK would be different to those maintained by former prime minister Tony Blair, our correspondent said.

So will Brown try harder to please voters, or please the American government? Considering what he's spewed out so far, it appears he is following Blair by pursuing the latter option: kiss up to the superpower, act like the 'war on terror' is a really good thing, point out all the things going right, ignore those going wrong, and let people know how lucky we are to have a nation like America in the international community (if only America gave back... diplomatically, that is; I'm not denying that the US doesn't do a lot of good, but it does do plenty of bad).

Will Brown be frank and serious about issues like the closure of Guantanamo, Britain's role in Iraq, and the unfair (to the UK) one-way treaties his predecessor dared not speak about with his American counterpart? Probably not, but we'll see. The Guardian offered an editorial/leader on the need for Brown to 'send the right signal'. There is no need for Brown to be irrational and anti-American like, worryingly, a good amount of his fellow Britons are becoming, that's not going to happen anyways; it would also be bad for him to be exultingly pro-American, failing to put the US in its place when it strays, and giving it the upper hand in nearly all aspects of their transatlantic relationship.

On at least one issue, Iraq, Brown is following lock-step with his predecessor's stubborn, possibly in-independent view. However the UK is not in nearly as much muck there as America. Today Brown said he agreed with Bush that the UK had "duties to discharge and responsibilities to keep" in Iraq. He then moved on to talk about moving "control to the Iraqi authorities", but failed to specify, as usual, roughly when or how. Bush seems to be testing the (Brown) water, i.e. trying to gauge whether Brown will be nearly the ally Blair was.

I agree with the shadow foreign secretary that Brown really needs to make his policy on US-UK relations clear, rather than letting confusion reign. It does appear, however, that Brown's attitude towards the US and his own government differs from his predecessor's. For one thing, he is to wear a suit to the meeting at Camp David; Blair often was more casual and brought his wife along. "Sofa" government has been thrown out with Blair, it seems, and Brown is hoarding less power from the parliament he is a member of compared to Blair's often unchecked power. Parliament should have such power; the prime minister provides leadership.

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