It seems the marriage is in grave trouble. I don’t mean between Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones but between the nations that made them. (Sorry, that’s a bit cheesy I know). The ties that bind the two parties begin to chafe, split the skin, cause discomfort and hurt. On a TAP flight on Saturday night from beautiful Portugal – miserable because the crew were, in turn, prejudiced and rubbish, refusing to provide even a drink of water – a Welsh family gave me their copy of The Sun, my first look at the news for a fortnight. Its front page evoked Churchill and Roosevelt, intoned laments and dripped with sorrow. Millions of their readers will grieve, but as many or more will not. They feel as do I, that this arranged marriage is oppressive and unequal. Britain has been the surrendered wife for too long.
To the dismay of laptop warmongers, mistress France is in favour now because David Cameron didn’t immediately yield to his nation’s overbearing husband. That’s what our PMs do, must apparently do. Only Harold Wilson defied Lyndon Johnson and kept out of Vietnam because public opinion was against that sordid war. Britons today, after the Iraq calamity, are just as suspicious of armed interventions abroad. The horrors Syrians are going through are indescribable. But our rockets and firepower will make an even bigger inferno in that now blighted land. Tony Blair, the most willing spouse of the US, lost the argument. So Cameron, even though he, too, is a US loyalist, may be remembered as the PM who finally released us from that disastrous “special relationship” which began, understandably enough, because of the Second World War and America’s pivotal role in the victory.
Britain’s wartime debt has to end sometime. With our abject collusion, Americans have bases wherever they choose, a thriving weapons-based economy, a free card to detain and torture whomsoever they capture, to claim the planet and commandeer its resources. Guantanamo Bay, built on Cuban land, is the most potent symbol of all that. How long do we simply roll over every time the US wants us to? Wars, as the American comedian George Carlin says, that’s what his nation does best: “We’re not good at anything else now – we’ve got no steel industry, can’t educate our young people, can’t get healthcare for our old people, but we can bomb the shit out of your country, especially if it is full of brown people.” The first and “inspiring” black President turned out to be just another US cowboy, who believes Americans have special God-given rights that are not available to other humans, not even us pathetic Brits. The UK hitched to the US is more hated today by various peoples of the world than it was even when it had its own empire.
More American-born immigrants live in Britain than do those born in Jamaica. It is their imperial right. Immigration rules going the other way are indefensibly stricter. Extradition treaties and other agreements are just as imbalanced. We would be saner about our European destiny if there wasn’t this sad dependency on the US. Our future links with China, South Africa and India need to be dislocated from American paranoia and interests based on ignorance. And do not forget that Americans detested the welfare state model and are helping to dismantle it today.
In 2010, the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee officially called for an end to the exceptional alliance because it was proving harmful to both sides. No one took any notice. By this point I will be denounced as “anti-American”. So let me say that I deeply admire American writers, artists, universities, civil rights leaders, blues and pop music, civic communities, most of the great constitution, the museums, San Francisco, Spelling Bee competitions, Google, iPads, comedians, movies, George Clooney, TV series, its vistas, (small) hamburgers, family values, Nina and Ferry, my two dearest mates (and their kids) in Pittsburgh, Dan, Josh, Di and Mary in New York. That love is real and enduring, but cannot temper the fear and fury I feel about America’s dark and unholy history (wreathed in holiness, like those of most nations, but much more so), its lies, covert and overt foreign policies to destabilise regions, and its vast, overweening ego. Before his untimely death, the remarkable historian Tony Judt and I talked about the truths denied by his adopted countrymen in the US, even the educated. He was confounded that so few ever dared to question the official versions of history.
When Thatcher and Reagan were locked in their long embrace, I was selected to join a network, the British-American Project. Politicians, armed force representatives, CEOs, journalists, artists and policy wonks from both countries gathered there and here. I learnt more about this relationship and made some good friends. But the premise was unnerving as I listened to generals talking about the expansion of Israel as if we would all agree that that was necessary. Or Republicans discussing how to keep Japan in its place. So my reservations go back a long way. This marriage of convenience may have the UK and US’s security at its heart but, after 60 years, it needs to break up. Only then will both sides be free to interact creatively and independently with each other and the world.