No clout for blood?

Not quite. But when it comes to the Anglo-American ‘special relationship’, in exchange for blood and participation, the Brits get little special influence with America. Benefits, sure, but not a singular or pivotal status in Washington.

What’s more, the rhetoric of the special relationship is quite bad for British interests. It means that Britain’s considerable efforts are judged harshly, and when the reward of special influence is not forthcoming, leads to disappointment.

More specifically, one version of the ‘special relationship’ ideology is the notion, less popular now but quite strong a few years ago, that Britain as junior but more seasoned partner could tutor and educate America in the ways of ‘small wars’, and by doing so, prove its special worth. This ideology also didn’t quite work out that way.

That’s what I argue in an article just about to be published in International Affairs,  the journal of Chatham House. Here’s the synopsis:

At the heart of the ‘special relationship’ ideology, there is supposed to be a grand bargain. In exchange for paying the ‘blood price’ as America’s ally, Britain will be rewarded with exceptional influence over American foreign policy and its strategic behaviour. Soldiers and statesman continue to articulate the idea. Since 9/11, the notion of Britain playing ‘Greece’ to America’s ‘Rome’ gained new life thanks to Anglophiles on both sides of the Atlantic. One potent version of this ideology was that the more seasoned British would teach Americans how to fight ‘small wars’ in Iraq and Afghanistan, thereby bolstering their role as tutor to the superpower.

Britain does derive benefits from the Anglo-American alliance and has made momentous contributions to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.Yet British solidarity and sacrifices have not purchased special influence in Washington. This is due partly to Atlanticist ideology, which sets Britain unrealistic standards by which it is judged. And it is also because the notion of ‘special influence’ is misleading, as it loses sight of the complexities of American policymaking. The overall result of expeditionary wars has been to strain British credibility in American eyes and to display its lack of consistent influence both over high policy and the design and execution of US military campaigns. While there may be good arguments in favour of the UK continuing its efforts in Afghanistan, the notion that the war fortifies Britain’s vicarious world status is a dangerous illusion that leads to repeated overstretch and disappointment. Now that Britain is in the foothills of a Strategic Review, it is important that Britons abandon this false consciousness.

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