A short, apparently successful Anglo-American war with significant British influence on the form of the postwar regime might seem to spell a rosy future for the special relationship. But, as Rodric Braithwaite argues, the presumption of almost absolute loyalty to our American senior partner has won us very little in return in recent decades and has damaged many of our other global relationships. Moving from a special friendship to an ordinary friendship simply requires Britain to follow the basic rule of negotiation in dealings with America: make it clear that you will, if necessary, walk away from the table. That is something that British prime ministers, submariners and code-breakers have been loath to contemplate, partly because of our various dependencies in the defence and security fields.
Iraq is actually a misleading case. For much of the past 12 years, Britain has been more hawkish about Iraq than the US. It was no act of British submission to join the bloody toppling of Saddam. But we now badly need an opportunity to distance ourselves from Bush’s America for the sake of our key relationships in Europe, which are not healing as fast as many had hoped. Thanks to Iraq, Tony Blair may be secure enough both in America and at home to undertake that act of distancing. It does not need to go-indeed should not go-too far. Europe is not yet in a position to defend itself from a serious threat without America, let alone undertake more than minor actions elsewhere in the world. And with our other main defence and security partner, France, in a Gaullist sulk, there is hardly an appealing alternative in the near future. But Turkey has shown what is possible. Barely a month after Turkey had refused America permission to cross its territory, Colin Powell was back in Ankara doing deals.
Other news: Philip Collins and Roger Wicks provide an unusually comprehensible guide to the host of social policy changes-in particular the rise of the means-tested tax credit-that Gordon Brown has been quietly spreading over the past five years. The poverty trap has been pushed higher up the income scale and a fair amount of redistribution has been going on-but part of the price for this seems to be an even more complex system for the user.
Among other diversions: an Alasdair Gray story; a critical look at arts television; a new regular letter from…