July 12, 2010 | Commentary on Alliances, Arms Control and Nonproliferation

Fumbling Hands Reach Across the Sea

On June 1, 1785, once bitter enemies met face to face.

John Adams, the firebrand who helped spark the revolution, appeared before King George as the official representative of the newly established United States of America.

The meeting was as tense as it was historic.

Adams entered the cavernous room. He could hear his own footsteps echo through the chamber. He bowed carefully. He began to speak nervously. He said it was his duty, in the aftermath of war, to "restore the confidence and affection" between nations of "kindred blood."

He waited long moments for a reply.

The king eyed Adams and answered, "I am very glad that the choice has fallen on you to be their minister." He added, "I was the last to consent to separation but the separation having been made and having become inevitable, I have always said, as I say now, that I would be the first to meet the friendship of the United States as an independent power."

That friendship has endured more than two and a quarter centuries. Naturally, as in any relationship, the partnership has been strained from time to time. There are tensions now.

Afghanistan is a problem. A new British conservative government, with only a few weeks on the job, has stated its determination to see that conflict through to success with more strength than President Obama has mustered in well over a year in office.

Obama has said he wants to start bringing troops home next year. But U.K. armed forces Minister Nick Harvey has flatly rejected a timeline for withdrawal. Rather, he says, the government will bring the troops home "as soon as the job is done."

British Prime Minister David Cameron suggested it was more realistic to think in terms of a five-year commitment. That makes sense given the "to do list" of what needs to done: Help establish an Afghanistan that can defend and govern itself; defeat and demobilize the Taliban; and crush al Qaeda.

Afghanistan will not be the only contentious issue on the agenda when Cameron journeys across the sea to meet with Obama next week. The U.S.-U.K. Trade Defense Cooperation Treaty was signed in June 2007. The United States has yet to ratify it, and our British friends are not pleased.

"Weare very keen to see the relationship flourish. We want to be a partner with United States," said British Defense Minister Liam Fox on a recent trip to Washington, "When it comes to a treaty of this nature, we expect to see fair play and we do not expect to see undue delay. We expect the United States and the politicians of the United States to deliver us what we were promised."

That the Obama administration has done far too little to move the treaty seems business as usual for a White House that spends much more time placating competitors than demonstrating common cause with allies.

Obama has invested every ounce of effort in fast-tracking ratification of the New START arms control agreement with Russia, even though -- as John Boston, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations notes -- "there is no compelling reason for the Obama-Medvedev treaty, and there are many reasons to fear its impact." That is Obama's priority. Meanwhile, a defense cooperation treaty with our closest security partner sits on the shelf.

This U.S.-U.K. relationship prospers best when both nations recognize what is in their common interest and act accordingly. When Cameron comes to Washington, Obama should reciprocate the forthrightness shown to Adams. He could start by jettisoning the artificial Afghan withdrawal timeline and making defense cooperation a priority.

Examiner Columnist James Jay Carafano is a senior research fellow for national security at the Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D. Vice President for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, and the E. W. Richardson Fellow

First appeared in The Washington Examiner