Issue Brief #3933
May 10, 2013
President Barack Obama will host British Prime Minister David Cameron at the White House on May 13. Publicly, it has been announced that the visit will be dominated by events in Syria, economic cooperation, countering terrorism, and priorities for the next meeting of the G-8.
Privately, David Cameron is likely to raise a number of sensitive issues, such as the U.S. position on the Falkland Islands and the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union (EU). This visit offers an opportunity for President Obama to get the Special Relationship back on track.
The Significance of the Special Relationship
The U.S. has no closer friend than the U.K. Both nations are liberal democracies that have been willing to use force to defend the free world. Today, the U.S. and Britain continue to cooperate closely in the realms of defense and intelligence, they have economic and financial ties of unparalleled depth and importance, and they share a fundamental interest in economic freedom and a belief in personal liberty. A recent poll found that 88 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of Great Britain, second only to Canada’s 91 percent favorable rating.
Instead of building on the Special Relationship, the Obama Administration has indulged in a series of petty insults against Britain. Secretary of State John Kerry has even diluted the term “special relationship” by stating that the U.S. wants such a relationship with the People’s Republic of China as well as with Britain.
A strong Anglo–American alliance is no obstacle to good U.S. relations with any other country, but a weak relationship is a betrayal of a friend as well as a stark reminder of America’s tendency to forget that it cannot expect to keep its allies if it refuses to take their concerns seriously.
The Obama Administration Has Snubbed the Special Relationship
President Obama’s Administration is less committed to the Anglo–American Special Relationship than any Administration in recent history. The President, in particular, has demonstrated this lack of regard through a number of deliberate and misguided acts throughout his presidency. Some of President Obama’s early snubs, such as his removal of the bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office, are already well documented. But recent incidents show that the Administration’s lack of regard for Britain has not improved and threaten to weaken the Anglo–American relationship even further.
Time to Promote the Special Relationship
The faults in the Anglo–American relationship do not rest solely with the U.S. Cameron has failed to make the British case on all these points with sufficient vigor and, during his visit in 2012, even allowed himself to be used as a campaign prop by President Obama. This is not only undignified; it means that vital British interests are not being vigorously defended. Parts of the British press, and all of the major British political parties, also indulge in criticisms of the U.S. legal and judicial systems that are unfair and prejudicial.
Nevertheless, the U.S. has in recent years made most of the errors in the context of Anglo–American relations, and it is time to set things right. In order to get the Special Relationship back on track, President Obama should:
Rebuild Close Ties
Instead of taking positive steps to reassert U.S. leadership in Europe, and to build on the U.S. ties with its best allies in Europe–particularly Britain, which is outside the eurozone—the Obama Administration has strongly backed the European Union in its destructive assault on national sovereignty. This is an approach that is guaranteed to alienate Britain, weaken U.S. influence in Europe, and leave the U.S. with fewer, poorer, and less capable democratic allies.
The Administration’s disdainful treatment of Britain is not just wrong in itself. It also stands at the very center of its inability to develop a grand strategic approach to Europe and its decision to outsource the defense of its interests in Europe to the EU. As the failure of the eurozone becomes ever more obvious, it is time to end this policy and to rebuild close ties between the U.S. and Britain.
—Nile Gardiner, PhD, is Director of, Luke Coffey is the Margaret Thatcher Fellow in, and Ted R. Bromund, PhD, is Senior Research Fellow in Anglo–American Relations in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.