Connect to share and comment

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?

“The British Army, for which I have so much respect, which has such a history of success in counter-insurgency, has not done everything right in Helmand province, did not do everything right in Basra. It needs to think hard about those lessons,” he told the New Statesman and Society. And, giving new meaning to their funk, he also said their “standards of personal hygiene” left something to be desired.

The opposition Conservatives once would have rallied against such an insult to the British fighting man. But blood is in the water, and Britain’s mood looks likely to be pinned firmly on the decisions of Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his predecessor, Tony Blair. So the Tories, already inflamed by a New York Times report in July that Britain’s senior general in Afghanistan has to be ferried around by American helicopters for lack of a British one, have laid into Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s government for allegedly forsaking the troops.

Politics aside, this is serious

In fact, this hardly counts as abnormal in the U.K. British foreign policy since World War I has been a constant process of adjusting to new, generally more restrictive horizons. Since the late 1950s, Britain increasingly has sought to position itself as America’s most reliable ally, on the one hand, and Europe’s ambassador to the superpower, on the other.

That has brought both rewards (privileged access to nuclear technology and intelligence) and perils (involvement in the Iraq War and deep exposure to the U.S. subprime crash). Not just British politics, but more importantly, British foreign policy seems to be on the verge of yet another reevaluation.

Stryker McGuire, a keen American observer of the British, says the U.K.’s day as a “pocket superpower” appears to be over. McGuire, the longtime London bureau chief for Newsweek magazine, penned a devastating piece titled "The Last Gasps of the British Empire" which ran on the cover of the magazine's  Aug. 1 international edition. 

“Tony Blair made a final stab at greatness with what amounted to a 51st-state strategy: by locking Britain into America’s wars — on terror, in Afghanistan and in Iraq — London achieved an importance it hadn’t had since Churchill,” wrote McGuire in the Times of London last week.

 “But whatever advantage Britain gained in the short term was wiped out by the political damage Mr. Blair’s strategy caused at home. Ordinary Britons and even members of the Establishment grew critical of what they saw as London’s subservient relationship with Washington.”

For many, and not just inside Britain, but among the fast-emerging powers of Asia, the time for a reckoning is long past. Britain, like France, owes its permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council largely to history rather than any modern assessment of its relative power.