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July 17, 2007 |  5 comments |  Print  Ask The Community  

Dear readers

Will Brown's Dinner With Merkel Leave Bush Hungry?

Dear readers:, what do you make of Gordon Brown’s decision to take his first trip as prime minister to Berlin, rather than to Washington? Is Great Britain moving closer to Germany (and the EU), while the “special relationship” with the US takes a dive?

The first steps of a new national government are closely monitored for any underlying symbolism.

Traditionally, the British prime minister’s first foreign visit is to Washington, but Gordon Brown chose dinner with Angela Merkel instead. No date has yet been set for a meeting with President Bush. This is being “widely interpreted as setting the future tone of his government’s foreign policy and as a shift away from the United States,” writes Kate Connolly in The Guardian , adding that the German government welcomed the “positive gesture”.

Ever since Tony Blair announced his plans to retire, the professional crystal ball gazers have predicted a more distant UK-US relationship. Now, there are some indications for these predictions.

On Thursday, Douglas Alexander, secretary of state for international development, gave a first taste of what to expect. His speech at the Council of Foreign Relations created quite a stir in Washington. His statements seemed to be about more than just fighting global poverty and were interpreted as coded criticism of US policies. Alexander, who is considered one of Mr. Brown’s closest allies and ‘Mini-Me’ argued:

We must form new alliances, based on common values; ones not just to protect us from the world but ones which reach out to the world. A new alliance of opportunity. And politics as well as policy will be the key to making progress.
We need to demonstrate by our word and our actions that we are: internationalist not isolationist; multilateralist not unilateralist; active not passive; and driven by core values consistently applied, not special interests.
Isolationism simply does not work in an interdependent world. There is no security or prosperity at home unless we deal with the global challenges of security, globalization, climate change, disease and poverty. We must recognise these challenges and champion an internationalist approach—seeking shared solutions to the problems we face.
Multilateralist, not unilateralist, means a rules-based international system. Just as we need the rule of law at home to have civilization so we need rules abroad to ensure global civilization.

The references to “unilateralism” and “rules-based international system” are read by many observers in the mainstream media and blogosphere as jabs against the Bush administration. The short mentioning of “new alliances” has apparently made many people nervous and is seen as denigrating the special relationship between the US and the UK, which for many is of dubious influence after the Blair era.

Spokespeople for Brown played down the statements by Douglas Alexander as well as the symbolism of Mr. Brown’s visit to Berlin.

Is the media over-interpreting the tea leaves, or are Brown and Alexander really taking London in a new direction?

Is the Channel getting narrower and the Atlantic wider? Or will French President Nicolas Sarkozy really fill the “vacuum” that Blair left in Washington, as Stefan Kornelius predicts in Die Süddeutsche Zeitung?

What do you, the members of the Atlantic Community, think of all this? How do you see the UK-US special relationship developing under Brown?

Written by Joerg Wolf

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Valentina  Klausen

July 17, 2007

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Jörg -

well put " over-interpreting the tea leaves". I think that is precisely it: even though Brown's first visit was to Germany (as was Blair's in 1997), England will remain a "special partnership". Brown can simply not afford to loose some of his voters, especially when Cameron is gaining momentum. A too "pro-Euro"-approach will clearly alienated swing voters in the favor of conservatives. Plus, its only a dinner, even though highly symbolic, I would not overestimate the impact / meaning of it.
 
Oliver  Hauss

July 17, 2007

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Aside from what Valentina said regardign Brown, I disagree with Stefan Kornelius in that I don't think that Sarkozy can really fill the role. On the one hand, he still has to tackle public opinion in France, which would not support such a move, on the other, it doesn't fit his outlook on the world as I see it. Of course he'll be happy to be seen with US politicians and especially a US president -but that's because it will make him and France look important and only as long as there are no higher priorities. If the US is looking for something like loyalty, he's the wrong guy to turn to, in my eyes. He's shown as a minister quite well he has no qualms breaking a lot of china if he believes it's in the interest "of France".
 
Gunnar  Schmidt

July 18, 2007

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I don't remember Blair's first trip, but I know that he formed a close relationship with Clinton immediately. Clinton even spoke at a UK cabinet meeting a few weeks after Blair came into office. This has not happened before. I don't know if Blair and Clinton had met before the UK elections that brought Blair into office. Perhaps.

Bush is a lame duck, thus there is no point for Brown to visit Bush. Besides, Brown has to reassure his base that he won't be "Bush's poodle." Domestic politics is always more important than international considerations.

Re Douglas Alexander's speech: I can't make up my mind.
I am not sure:. Either it was deliberately meant to create some headlines to please the UK audience or it was just an innocent speech, which the nervous American media blew out of proportion. I mean it is a long speech. And those few quoted sentences are very general. The only reason to see them as hidden criticism is American nervousness about losing more and more friends in Europe.

Last but not least: I don't think this speech or Brown's visit to Berlin are so indicative of the future UK-US relationship. More important is the appointment of outspoken Iraq war critics into the cabinet. Malloch Brown, Jack Straw and the other person, whose name I forgot, have been very critical of the US. Let's see what they will do soon.

I am curious about David Miliband's policies. A rising star in Britain, but I don't know much about him.
 
Gunnar  Schmidt

July 18, 2007

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@ Oliver

I agree, Sarkozy will never fill Blair's role. Stefan Kornelius must be nuts to think so.

Sarkozy's alleged Pro-Americanism is totally overrated. He is a shrewed and ruthless politician. He is only loyal to his own agenda and advancements.

When Jacques Chirac was elected, everybody wrote that French-US relations will now be sooo much better than before during the Mitterrand era. And all because Chirac studied in the US and said a few nice things about Americans back then.
 
Joerg  Wolf

July 18, 2007

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Today’s Foreign Affairs newsletter points out:

Gordon Brown’s arrival at 10 Downing Street has led to speculation that the very special relationship between George W. Bush’s United States and Tony Blair’s United Kingdom may be coming to an end. But as Lawrence D. Freedman argued in the May/June 2006 issue of "Foreign Affairs":http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20060501faessay85304/lawrence-d-freedman/the-special-relationship-then-and-now.html
the special relationship between London and Washington has always been remarkably resilient and it has endured disagreements about war before. Even if Prime Minister Brown and his Foreign Secretary David Miliband differ with Bush on issues such as the war in Iraq and use of the term "war on terror," Anglo-American relations are not likely to suffer as a result.
 

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