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A wedding for all the wrong reasons

There's talk of royal nuptials, but would a proposal by Prince William be enough to pull Britain out of its malaise?

Britain's Prince William smiles as he walks with his girlfriend Kate Middleton at the Royal Air Force station near Cranwell in central England, April 11, 2008. (Michael Dunlea/Pool, via Reuters)

NEW YORK — Britain’s old malaise, the creeping national crisis of confidence and purpose that has afflicted the country once in every generation since the end of World War I, is back.

Talk of “chronic decline" and “looming impotence” characterizes the political debate once again.

It's hard to believe that just last year, the magnates who run the New York Stock Exchange were wringing their hands at the prospect of being overtaken by London as the global financial capital. The sixth largest economy in the world, Britain grew between 1992 and 2006 at a healthy average clip of 2.8 percent.

During the 1980s, under Margaret Thatcher, it cast off a previous bout of gloom and, ultimately, reversed what a previous generation had assumed to be an inevitable slide toward irrelevance. And what better way to overcome the self doubt of a faded empire than a royal wedding?

British tabs buzz with news of Prince William’s rumored “understanding” with longtime girlfriend Kate Middleton, an echo of the zeitgeist in pop culture back when Maggie’s England was all agog over Charles and Di. 

While the tabloids dream of wedding dresses and tuxedos, it seems the undertakers once again are measuring Britain for a casket.

Stiff upper-lips be damned, the British themselves are playing along. ICM, a polling firm, has found Britain to be the most pessimistic major nation on earth since the onset of the global economic crisis. American generals are complaining about dolorous British troops in Afghanistan. And David Beckham’s homecoming after his flop in Los Angeles won’t help.

The British ‘funk’

As the British will quickly tell you, they have reason to be glum. Their economy shrank by nearly 6 percent over the past year, and unemployment — at 7.8 percent — is at a 10-year high.

On the battlefield, American officers have resorted to tough love. In a rare public rebuke to a close ally, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, exasperated by such pessimism, condemned the “defeatism” of the commander of British forces in Afghanistan. John Nagl, the senior counterinsurgency advisor to CENTCOM commander U.S. Gen. David Petreaus, told a reporter that morale among British troops is a problem.