The Pope is not the only world leader in DC this week. Gordon Brown is also in town. Nile Gardiner rants about the decline of the special relationship under Brown’s leadership. It is true that, although Brown’s premiership has been quite disastrous on most fronts, Britain’s foreign policy has received a healthy injection of realism in the last few months. And the Brown government has notably stopped using the phrase “special relationship”. The reasons why are manifold, but it is clear that Brown has been keen—almost obsessed, in fact—to distance himself from Blair, and a change of policy direction over Iraq, as well as being sensible, is an obvious way of showing that he is not “Bush’s poodle” – which is what many Brits thought of Blair.
Yet to suggest, as Gardiner does, that Brown has a “determined indifference to the special relationship” is not quite right, and it is an exaggeration to say the PM has a “major credibility problem” in the United States. On the contrary, Brown will hold 45-minute private audiences—in a curiously papal style—with all three major presidential candidates in the British embassy on Thursday. No other foreign leader has met Clinton, Obama and McCain in one visit. There is something a bit strange about this. What makes Gordon B so important? And why can’t he go to see them on Capitol Hill, or wherever? It reeks of Brit arrogance, but it also shows that Britain’s closeness to America is far from over. The UK’s friendship with the Bush administration is probably not as tight under Brown as it was under Blair. That said, Brown already met McCain in London only a few weeks ago, which indicates that New Labour and the GOP are not exactly on the path to enmity. Who knows? It is obvious, though, that Brown is looking to the future. And considering the mess Bush and Blair have made of Iraq, this seems perfectly sensible.