‘Special Relationship’ no more?

The recommendation of a cross-party foreign affairs committee is trying to stop use of the phrase ‘special relationship’ with reference to the US and UK. This paragraph from the guardian article pretty much sums it up:

“In words that will be interpreted as criticism of Tony Blair’s decision to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with George Bush on the invasion of Iraq, the committee said: “The perception that the British government was a subservient ‘poodle’ to the US administration leading up to the period of the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath is widespread both among the British public and overseas. This perception, whatever its relation to reality, is deeply damaging to the reputation and interests of the UK.”” (emphasis added)

The reality of foreign policy is not important here, but the image. That this committee thinks there is anything to salvage of this image may seem incredible, but it’s pretty obvious why they would want to sever this phrase. The move is similar to the US decision to scrap ‘War on Terror’ for ‘Overseas Contingency Operations,’ in which terrorism is still used as an excuse but the overall project rhetoric is sanitised to depart from the first-term bush administration talk of crusades and the like, thereby satisfying elements of the intelligentsia who rightly ridiculed the former phrase.

There is a link between the ever less popular war effort and the legitimacy of the entire political establishment, which is faltering thanks to the bank bailouts and the pathetic flop in Copenhagen among other things. Popular wars are bound to the strength of nationalist sentiments, providing opportunities for flag-waving galore and blurring lines between country, state and government. Granted the occupation of Iraq was never popular over here, but the broader project of the War on Terror contained ideas very pervasive to this day. Government has nonetheless received the knock mentioned above, and has to reformulate rhetoric accordingly: one of the most common ways of doing this is to scrap phrases like ‘special relationship,’ with the aim of obfuscating reality.

How much influence the Foreign Office ever had over US foreign policy is debatable, but if it is true that that influence has waned, this move is simply weakness dressed as strength, less influence dressed as greater autonomy. Since the interests involved are much the same, however, this is less important than it may sound, in the same way that cadbury’s chocolate is the same whether owned by kraft or not.

Naturally, those in the peace movement will continue to deconstruct the rhetoric and describe the reality of foreign policy.

Haroun Lazim
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