The special relationship – as seen by Democrats
and Republicans

During the early years of World War II, the Democrat President Franklin Delano Roosevelt actively sought to support the UK even while the US was still officially neutral. Many of FDR’s opponents were isolationist Republicans who cared little for Anglo-American ties. Almost 80 years later and the story could not be more different.

On his recent visit to the UK, President Obama urged the British people to vote to remain in the EU and declared that Brexit would put the UK at the “back of the queue” for a new trade deal with the US. A disparaging comment on its own, when taken within the context of the Obama presidency it makes for even bleaker reading for those who still hold the Special Relationship dear.

On the issue of the Falkland Islands for example, the Obama administration has dispensed with the US’s long-held neutrality on the issue and repeatedly demanded that the UK and Argentina “negotiate” over the islands. This is essentially the Argentine position masquerading as neutrality. When the Deepwater Horizon oil spill crisis hit in 2010, Obama repeatedly referred to BP as “British petroleum”, despite the fact that the company was no longer known by that name at the time. When Gordon Brown was Prime Minister, Obama snubbed him during a 2009 visit to the US.

Obama’s treatment of the UK is arguably the most inhospitable of any US president in living memory. His likely successor, Hillary Clinton, was of course Obama’s Secretary of State during his first four years in office and thus cannot be counted on to pursue warmer relations with the UK as president, particularly if Brexit does indeed become a reality.

It is the much-maligned Republicans who have been far friendlier towards Britain in recent years. Prominent Republicans Ted Cruz and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan have both recently spoken warmly of the Special Relationship and rejected the Obama approach. This is not about the EU referendum per se but rather tone and approach. Even President Bush, widely despised in the UK and often (unfairly) lampooned as stupid, was much friendlier to Britain than his aloof successor.

Of course, one caveat that always needs to be stressed with regards to the Anglo-American relationship is that for the Americans in particular, it is one that is often based on self-interest rather than sentiment. Helping the British fight Germany for example was in the interests of the US in World War II, as was keeping them close during the Cold War. Even in recent years the US has needed the UK as a vital ally in the War on Terror.

However, looking at the Special Relationship through the prism of self-interest does not make the actions of the Obama administration any more excusable. On the contrary, it merely rubs salt into the wound. It is still very much in the interests of the US that Britain remains one of its closest allies. With the Middle East flaring up once more and the continued uncertainty over the Iranian nuclear program, the US needs a loyal ally by its side if it has any designs on sorting things out. The US and the UK also remain ideologically close; other than the UK, few nations share the US’s outlook on trade, democracy and in being a positive, outward-looking force in the world.

It is a crying shame that the party which produced a leader such as FDR could go on to produce posers in Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton who not only do not care about the proud history of US-UK relations but do not even recognise that it is in the best interests of their nation to maintain this grand old alliance. The Republicans have long been close friends of Britain but increasingly it appears as if they are becoming our only friends in American politics.


Ben Harris is an I’m an international relations postgraduate from the University of Kent. Follow him on Twitter:  @btharris93

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