Sunday, July 15, 2007


No More 'Poodling' to USA

Relations with the US are currently undergoing rapid change and the state of policy flux is fascinating for observers of how policy is made and evolves. We have seen a number of moves by Brown's government- one allows the benefit of the doubt that they were choreographed- which have sought to establish a distance between us and our superpower 'cousin'.

1. Appointment of David Miliband as Foreign Secretary: Miliband was known to be less than lukewarm towards Iraq and was opposed to following the pro Israel US line over the 2006 Hezbullah War.

2. Speech by Douglas Alexander in US: this speech by the young cabinet member was widely seen as a criticism of US unilateralism and wider foreign policy.

3. Lord Malloch -Brown's Telegraph interview was similarily interpreted as an attack on US foreign policy when the former UN official suggested we should no longer be 'joined at the hip' to the USA.

Taken together, these three items indicate a marked shift of emphasis away from the Tony Blair policy of 'hugging close' to the US alliance. Too close for the comfort of the majority of those who live within these shores, if the spontaneous eruptions of approval in cinemas all over the country when Hugh Grant's British PM in Love Actually refused to be bullied by Billy Bob Thornton's over-bearing US President, are to be believed. But as the Observer's leader points out today, we still need the relationship if we are to continue being a player at the top tables and Gordon Brown is well aware of this too. Hence his memo to Cabinet in the wake of Alexander's speech stating:

'We will not allow people to separate us from the United States in dealing with the common challenges we face around the world.'

Messy policy muddle or subtly nuanced messages? A bit of both, of course, but more of the latter than the former. Brown has been able to establish signals of his desire for distance to audiences on both sides of the Atlantic and they remain potent, despite his public disavowal of their meaning. He has pulled the old lawyer's trick of introducing a forbidden piece of evidence into proceedings the import of which remains with the jury despite being over-ruled by the judge.

Sometime in the future, in his own time, Brown will probably make a speech on foreign policy which will almost certainly reinforce his commitment to the alliance with the US. It may well also indicate he will plough a more independent furrow than his predecessor, but in Washington the message will already have been digested: no more 'poodling' to the White House.

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