Watching the news last weekend made me cringe. Anchors, commentators and politicians were all frantically worried about our ‘special relationship’ with the United States. They were so anxious that they squirmed at any indication that President Trump would not place us in our own special box.
Many desperately suggested that the ‘special relationship’ will endure despite Trump’s meddling, citing the relationship between diplomats and security agencies as being more mature.
And then there is Theresa May, a Prime Minister who has no limit to the amount of disrespect and condescension she will suffer for the sake of this relationship. Whether it be the travel ban, climate change or the separation of children from their parents at the border, Theresa May has either said nothing or muttered a lack lustre condemnation.
Not condemning these transgressions wholeheartedly reduces the UK’s authority in the world as an advocate for human rights and individual liberty. It took the Prime Minister over four months to publicly rebuke the President for leaving the Paris Climate Agreement, and even then it was indirect and contained in a broader speech. The delay led to the German Foreign Minister implying the UK endorsed Trump’s decision. This is just one example of subservience to the US making us look weak.
On top of this, grovelling at the United States’ feet will only make this supposedly mutual relationship worse. No one likes a needy partner, friend or colleague. As we all know, repeatedly asking for friendship or desperately seeking affection merely pushes people away. The United States does not want a weak ally and our whiney obsession with the ‘special relationship’ only makes us look insecure and paranoid.
It is a sad state of affairs when global politics has to be compared to the playground, but that is the world we live in. The kid who accepts being pushed around and falls at others’ feet rarely makes real friends. This is especially true when the top dog is a petulant bully who preys on the weak.
Rather than standing up to the bully, Theresa May desperately wanted to be his friend. Flying straight to the White House following Trump’s inauguration and offering him a state visit was, to put it simply, tragic.
The playground shows us that desperation is never the way to make friends.
After all, successful relationships are built upon mutual respect. For that to occur, the UK must start respecting itself. By not responding to blatant disrespect by another country (whoever they are) we sacrifice our values and dignity. For the United States to take us seriously, we must first take ourselves seriously. That means we cannot be paranoid about not having our hand held on the world stage.
At a time when we are feeling our most vulnerable, we must resist the urge to cry for help.
This is especially true when Donald Trump is President. Trump responds to flattery and strength. He will always want deference and spectacle but he will respond best when this is backed up by a steely eye, a firm word and an incessant handshake. Emmanuel Macron understood this as soon as he took office. His management of Trump has been most skilful.
Now, this isn’t to say that we don’t want a good relationship with the United States. Of course, we do. It would be short-sighted, proud and self-indulgent to think we were better off without them.
But constantly voicing our concern about a ‘special relationship’ is counter-productive. That is precisely the point.
At the end of a press conference last week, Donald Trump said, “I would give our relationship the highest level of special”. In his following sentence, he told the Prime Minister that she should listen to his advice on Brexit. Whilst Trump may say the relationship is ‘the highest level of special’, he still feels comfortable publicly telling the Prime Minister what to do.
A less needy and more confident approach might change that.