Nicholas Clegg is the leader of Great Britain’s Liberal Democrat party. Until recently, it looked as if the Liberal Democrats would replicate their usual showing in the upcoming elections – a distant third place. That would have been fine. From all I can tell, Clegg is a Euro-liberal who tries to dress himself up as the “anti-politician” alternative to the insiders in the Labor and Conservative parties. Sound familiar?
On the strength of his performances in American-style presidential debates, however, Clegg has stormed into contention. It seems unlikely that his party will win the May 6 election outright. However, as the Washington Post editorial board notes, it may do well enough to produce a “hung parliament” in which no party has a majority. What happens at that point is anyone’s guess.
Meanwhile, Clegg has added credibility to his claim as an outsider and independent thinker by attacking the notion that the U.S. and Britain have a “special relationship.” In a speech advocating a shakeup in relations, he called it “embarrassing the way Conservative and Labor politicians talk in this kind of slavish way about the special relationship.” Clegg argued that, in fact, there are “profound differences” between the two nations. Noting that the Obama administration has already written off the idea that Britain is a special ally, Clegg concluded that “if they are moving on, why on earth don’t we?”
As the Post’s editors acknowledge, President Obama’s behavior supports Clegg’s assessment. And if Clegg’s assessment is correct, so too is his conclusion. Unless there is something special about the relationship, Britain should not pay any particular heed to the interests and desires of the U.S. when it formulates policy and decides whether to support various U.S. projects, including military actions. I understand that Clegg, in fact, favors early withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan.
The same principle applies to the rest of our allies. Israel is something of a special case because it is more dependent on the U.S. in certain key respects than countries like Britain. Still, it’s inevitable that the Israeli government will soon realize (and, most likely, has realized already) that it cannot count on the U.S. as a partner, and that therefore the time has come to pay as little heed as possible to our prescriptions and demands.
Obama, meanwhile, seems too arrogant to recognize the blowback his arrogant, and indeed hostile, approach to our traditional allies is bound to produce. This is not surprising. Obama’s policies towards our traditional allies are the product of attitude, not of calculation. He may well be temperamentally unable to calculate their costs.
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