Under Barack Obama, as former State Department official Jeremy Shapiro informed the Cheltenham Literature Festival last week, US diplomats viewed the notion of a “special relationship” with the UK as “a joke”. Unkind words, perhaps, but Shapiro “did us a favour” by telling the truth. The phrase “had freshness and relevance” when Winston Churchill coined it after the Second World War. But today, on this side of the Atlantic, it “generates unrealistic expectations and encourages prime ministers to behave like poodles”. I banned the term when I was British ambassador to Washington in the 1990s. It made us look “needy” and pathetic. It was even used against us in negotiations: I was accused of damaging the special relationship when Britain did not toe the US line. America, it’s true, is our most important ally. But “in truth, the US only has one special relationship. That is with Israel, because of its influence over the US Congress.” We should remember this when US-UK trade talks begin: “warm and fuzzy words” will mean nothing at the negotiating table. (Christopher Meyer, The Daily Telegraph)
I read this excerpt from the Daily Telegraph with amusement because after 23 years of living in the United States I have heard mention of the “special relationship” with the UK
precisely once, and that came from someone who had been in military intelligence, and had served in England. And yes, the relationship with Israel superceded it long ago, for reasons of electoral fundraising. Surprise, surprise. Britain outside the EU is even less of an attraction. Naturally, foreign service people concentrate on the powerful bits of the world – China, India, the EU. The right-wing conservatives expecting a special deal from any US President are going to be disappointed. Britain is somewhere a third down the list.