Interviewed by The Sunday Times, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace explained that, following the US assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani on January 3, the UK now intends to abandon its traditional alliance with the US. Complaining about US President Donald Trump’s “isolationist foreign policy,” Wallace indicated that Britain would be looking for “alternative allies around the world.”
Business Insider sums up the reasoning: “Wallace told the paper that the UK would increasingly need to turn to other allies that more closely share the UK’s interests.
Here is today’s 3D definition:
Nations that, not being your enemy, can in some way help you to oppose your enemies, as soon as you are clear about who your enemies are
Wallace’s position turns out to be an intriguing development, if only because, as of mid-January, no one is quite sure today what the UK’s interests are. The fact that the defense secretary indicates those interests no longer converge with the US’ interests could lead to some interesting speculation. This is especially true given that Britain’s new government has made it clear that, with its focus on “getting Brexit done,” it no longer senses a convergence of interests with the European Union.
Wallace goes further: It isn’t only a question of no longer being allies, which could be no more than an expression of a vague attitude. He acknowledges that Britain had been part of a formal coalition that he now appears to call into question. “The assumptions of 2010 that we were always going to be part of a US coalition is really just not where we are going to be,” he said.
Does this mean that Prime Minister Boris Johnson will seek a new coalition? But with whom? Could it be Russia or China? According to Business Insider, it was Trump’s “dangerous escalation” when he had General Soleimani assassinated that provoked the rupture with the US. Britain doesn’t want to be associated with a nation that risks being banished from the oil-rich Middle East as a reaction against incessant meddling. Russia and China both have a more neutral profile, and finding common ground with them may be the kind of hypothesis the UK will be forced to envisage now that it is no longer automatically aligned with either Europe or the US.
At the same time, The New York Times reveals that “Britain, Germany and France are taking a step toward more sanctions on Iran to pressure the country back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal.” Reuters more accurately titled its article, “Europeans to trigger Iran nuclear deal dispute mechanism,” acknowledging that the three countries have no interest in further sanctions but are seeking a way of keeping the deal from collapsing.
Britain, Germany and France constitute a major part of the coalition of signatories to the nuclear deal, which is officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), along with Russia and China. On this issue, some find it significant that Johnson has chosen to ally with Europe rather than the US. But Johnson is also playing coy with Trump by standing up to Iran and threatening the use of sanctions — Trump’s favorite stick with which to beat nations who don’t follow his lead.
Although tinging his discourse with cutting irony that may well escape American audiences, Johnson appears to know how to handle Trump like a Pavlovian dog. He is fully aware of the fact that Trump salivates at the sound of the word “sanctions” and even positively drools when someone makes a favorable comparison of his politics with Barack Obama’s. And the spaniel in Trump begins howling for more when his talents as a negotiator are praised.
In an interview with the BBC, here is how Johnson frames the question of the JCPOA as he attempts to draw Trump’s attention: “From the American perspective, it’s a flawed deal, it expires … plus it was negotiated by President Obama.” Johnson had to throw out that final sop for Trump, who undoubtedly will delight in what he will inevitably see as a justified zinger against Obama.
From that point, Johnson moves on to the key issue: getting a new deal to replace the old one. “Let’s replace it with the Trump deal,” he said. “That’s what we need to see. President Trump is a great dealmaker,” adding, after a pregnant pause, “by his own account … and by many others.” In saying this, Johnson couldn’t suppress a wry smile. The British viewer could certainly discern that Johnson’s final “and by many others” was intended to take some of the too obvious sting out of his reference to Trump’s fabled narcissism. Whether Americans pick it up or not remains to be seen. (For the moment none of the mainstream media seem to have noticed Johnson’s irony.)
Recent events indicate that the historically dominant Western nations — notably the US and the UK — find themselves at a crucial turning point in their relations with the rest of the world. Assessing the outcome of the Soleimani assassination and the events that followed, Johnson found himself playing the Panglossian optimist. “I think we are in a better place,” he said, which sounds like the US position that racks up the assassination as an act that, for all the grief it has created, made the world a better place. But then, catching himself, the prime minister added, breathlessly, “that doesn’t mean that the tensions aren’t there.” In other words, we are not yet in the best of all possible worlds.
Johnson goes on to praise the Iranian nation for the size of the population (80 million), its youthful demography and its high level of literacy. He then draws the traditional European colonialist’s conclusion: “They should be orientated towards free markets, towards our way of doing things.” He regrets that “they’re the captives, the prisoners of this government they have.” Johnson seems to have forgotten that, in 1953, it was the UK, aided and abetted the CIA, that prevented Iran from realizing its autonomous, democratic ambitions, when the Brits and Americans joined hands to overthrow the elected leader, Mohammad Mossadegh, and set up a sanguinary dictator, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, to do the West’s bidding.
For all his barely disguised ironic criticism of the US president, Johnson clearly shares with Trump the imperial and racist point of view that consists of believing that “our way” of doing things is the best, if not the only way for the rest of the world. Britain lost its empire and its colonial aura 70 years ago, but it still infects its current leaders.
The real historical irony is that the US may now find itself in a situation similar to that of Britain in 1950, as it begins to realize for the first time that it can’t maintain its empire. The fact that Britain itself is now pulling away from what they deem to be the failure of American global leadership should worry the decision-makers in Washington. Not just Trump and his administration, but the entire national security state and military-industrial complex. The UK drifting away from the US at the very moment many expected it to gravitate toward its North American partner once the rupture with Europe has been sealed tells us a lot about the weakened state of the US empire.
In recent decades, Pew Research has been studying the attitudes of nations across the globe toward the US. Its latest surveys show a significant downward trend among countries that have traditionally considered the US an ally on which they depend. One graph bears the title, “In many countries, fewer now see U.S. as top ally.” Kenya (-28%) and Japan (-11%) have seen a major drop in just the past two years. Other traditional allies, such as the Philippines (-19%), India and Indonesia, have seen a steady decline over five years.
The study also points out this worrying trend: “Substantial shares in some countries also perceive Washington as their greatest threat — even in some in which the U.S. is the most named top ally.”
Should we conclude that the UK is now catching up with the rest of the world by suddenly becoming defiant toward Trump’s America? The US may still be Britain’s best ally, but even the most American and downright Trumpian of its prime ministers appears to see the US — and not just President Trump — as the greatest threat to his nation.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.