Eurasia Review: Special Relationship In Calmer Waters After A Successful State Visit – OpEd

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By Zaid M. Belbagi*

As concrete blocks were dragged across Regent’s Park to fortify the US
President Donald Trump’s temporary headquarters, many expressed concern
as to the status of the alliance between the UK and the US. Mr. Trump’s
off-the-cuff style, the spectre of a Conservative Party leadership
contest and differences over Huawei and Iran were set to test the
resolve of the so-called “special relationship”. Despite the visit being
fraught with the possibility of diplomatic peril, as the president
departed aboard Airforce One his trip was applauded as a great success
from the perspective of all those involved.

Prime Minister Theresa May invited the controversial US leader as she
fought for the future of her premiership. Dogged by troublesome
negotiations with the EU, cabinet mutiny and parliamentary division, the
invitation of the world’s greatest superpower seemed an excellent idea
to bolster her fortunes. However, following the announcement of her
resignation a week beforehand, the visit was suddenly extraordinarily
badly timed. Had the palace been browbeaten into inviting only the third
US president (of the 12 in office during the Queen’s reign) for a state
visit, the diplomatic awkwardness of the trip’s timing was not lost on
Foreign Office insiders.

First coined by Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1946, the special
relationship was born out of the US and UK having overcome the global
turmoil, terror and loss of life of World War II together. A shared
language, continued military cooperation and strong commercial ties have
characterised the relationship. Concern has steadily grown as at first
the Obama administration did not see eye to eye with No. 10, and then
the Trump White House began rewriting post-1945 geopolitical realities.
The president’s combative approach to traditional Western allies since
his first G20 and NATO engagements has represented a significant shift
in US foreign policy. Separately, the UK visit came during a growing
number of trade disputes with countries across the world that
demonstrate the severe economic consequences of the US president’s
“America First” approach to bilateral partnerships.

It was therefore significant that President Trump left the UK with the
Prime Minister heralding “positive discussions” about an ambitious trade
agreement. Trump added that the deal would be “phenomenal,” leading to
trade that would be “two and even three times of what we’re doing right
now.” This was welcome news for British business as the prospect of
Brexit is the most significant geopolitical move for the UK since World
War II, making London more reliant on the US as ties loosen with the
other 27 members of the EU. Though thousands of people protested in
central London on Tuesday against Mr.Trump’s glitzy state visit, numbers
were far down from the tens of thousands who gathered to oppose his
working visit last year. There is little doubt that to many, this visit
had to succeed and that differences that Trump has had with European
allies, provided an opportune moment for the UK to focus on similarities
with its American cousins.

Building strong commercial ties was not even beyond the Queen as she
charmed a clearly dazzled President, lauding how the two countries were
the largest investors in each other’s economies. The role of palace in
the visit provided a masterclass in how experienced political figures
have an institutional memory which inspires awe and confidence. The
President nodded politely as the Queen reminded him of his Scottish
roots and of how the Special Relationship once saved the world from
tyranny. The centerpiece of the visit was a very poignant open-air
ceremony in celebration of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
By drawing the US president into an event of this nature, both the
Foreign Office and the palace very publically reminded him of the two
country’s special partnership and indeed the wider family of western
alliances. There was never a more important moment to remind American
decision makers of historical realities, as the post-war global order
looks ripe for strategic reconfiguration.

It was appropriate, therefore, that while much of the Western media
scrutinized the relationship between the United States and the United
Kingdom, another close — and growing — geopolitical and economic bond
was also being built upon. As China’s President Xi Jinping makes a state
visit to Russia to meet his counterpart Vladimir Putin, the two
countries are increasingly at odds with the United States. As they feel
the long arm of US trade and foreign policy hurting their interests,
they have actively sought to undermine the international community,
exploiting tensions between the US and its allies. With Xi Jinping
gearing to announce his agenda for global governance at the St.
Petersburg International Economic Forum, it was reassuring to see the
special relationship back on track, critical to a Western alliance
system that underpins international peace and security.

Zaid M. Belbagi is a political commentator, and an adviser to
private clients between London and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
Twitter: @Moulay_Zaid

Eurasia Review


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