US-UK Affair on the Rocks
Never has a visiting US president caused so much protest and division among the British public. For over 70 years, American and British leaders have flattered each other about a “special relationship” between the two states.
That “love affair” seems to have hit rocky ground under Tump.
For three days during his state visit, Britons made their contempt felt for the American leader. Trump flew into Britain like a tornado of trouble, interfering in the Brexit debacle, slamming the mayor of London as a “loser”, promoting Boris Johnson as the new Tory leader, and denying recorded jibes he made at a member (Meghan Markle) of the royal family.
President Trump’s brusque personal style and inflamed British passions over Brexit are certainly factors in apparently vexed relations.
Of course, there were the usual platitudes and official banquet toasts to the “special relationship”.
Nevertheless, Trump’s high-handed poking into Brexit politics and the British public’s disdain for an uncouth American suggest that the once cozy US-UK affair is going cold.
But it’s not just America’s supposed special bond with Britain coming undone. Washington is increasingly estranged from other allies in Europe too.
The Trump administration has taken to routinely pillorying Britain and other Europeans over any number of alleged grievances. Those grievances include Washington complaining about “unfair trade” by the Europeans, and threatening to impose tariffs in “retaliation”; they include demands by Washington that the Europeans stop doing business with Iran under an international nuclear accord, which the Trump administration unilaterally abrogated last year.
Washington also wants the Europeans to drop plans with Chinese telecom giant Huawei in setting up 5G wireless infrastructure. The Trump administration accuses Huawei of potentially spying for the Chinese government, which many observers say is a cynical pretext for shutting the rival to American telecoms out of a strategically important global market. If the Europeans cede to American demands to revoke plans with Huawei, it could undermine European technological advances by years. That could be another ulterior purpose in Trump’s high-handed bullying.
Another source of contention is Washington’s threats to impose sanctions on European companies involved in the Nord Stream 2 project to deliver natural gas to the continent from Russia. Again, the US seems to be blatantly using strong-arm tactics to distort a strategic market for its own advantage.
What’s going on here is a much bigger fraying of affair than just between the US and Britain. Trump’s prickly visit to Britain this week is merely a sign of a wider historical shift, whereby all American allies are being put on notice that from now on they better kowtow more to Washington’s demands — or else face painful retribution.
Why is that? Because America’s position as the presumed uni-power is more and more in question these days. The US economy — despite Trump’s bragging to the contrary — is in structural decline, as it has been for years. The rise of China as an economic power is eclipsing the former global leader. That’s why the Trump administration and others in the Washington establishment have made aggression towards China a priority. As with the Europeans, the US is trying to leverage concessions from Beijing to give its economic interests an unfair advantage. It’s a brazen policy of imperialist bullying.
While the US was a relatively strong economic power it could indulge Britain and other European states as “allies”. No longer. The chronic decline of American empire means that Washington is obliged to roll the sleeves up and elbow its way among former allies.
Trump certainly brings a particularly boorish expression to the changing geopolitical context. But the sharpening of rhetoric and open hostility would come to the fore regardless of who is in the White House. America’s decline as a global power is an historic process under its existing capitalist-imperialist culture.
Perhaps the best illustration of Washington transforming into an out-and-out bully is its demands on the Europeans to buy more American weaponry.
President Trump has been castigating European states for allegedly not spending enough on the US-led NATO military alliance. Trump has threatened to withdraw the US from the alliance if the European members don’t cough up more.
Well before Trump, Washington has always maintained that its function as the NATO leader was to “protect” Europe from Russia. Trump has brought characteristic abrasive invective to the narrative, disparaging Europe as a bunch of freeloading losers.
It transpires, however, that the real concern for the Americans is not “protecting” Europe, but rather to get the Europeans to spend more on the US military-industrial complex. In short, prop up American corporate capitalism.
Media reports have emerged of the Trump administration laying down an ultimatum to Europe to ensure the primacy of US weapons firms in the development of future systems.
At a meeting in Washington DC at the end of last month, State Department official Michael Murphy reportedly warned European counterparts to shelve plans for independent defense. Washington’s bottom line was that the Pentagon and related behemoth manufacturing corporations must remain the lead player in Europe’s military.
That means NATO members like Turkey are not tolerated by Washington buying Russian air defense systems like the S-400. It means Europeans must fulfill contracts to buy hundreds of new generation F-35 fighter jets, even those aircraft have dubious capability.
The post-Second World War transatlantic alliance headed up by Washington is cracking and crumbling. The bearer of bad news for the affair just so happens to be Donald Trump. But the affair is coming to an end regardless of Trump. That’s because American global power is on the wane. And in a desperate bid to compensate, Washington is having to resort to ever-increasing bully tactics towards foes, rivals and supposed allies.
The optics of Trump poking British society in the eye and vice versa are unbecoming. It’s certainly a sign of the times when the “special relationship” is so openly flouted despite a few platitudes thrown in to mitigate.
But it’s not just about America and Britain. Washington is on a collision course with other allies, and indeed the rest of the world, because of its senile decay as a global power.