First, where does the real value lie in the transatlantic relationship, especially for the UK? Talk of a special closeness with the United States is reassuring, but tends to paper over the crucial point that American and British policymakers now view the world and its currents through different lenses – the American focus is on exercising power, ours on adapting to the weather. This makes us more realistic than they are in assessing the context for international action and the consequences of policy choices – perhaps because they expect more from the assertion of power than global circumstances will support. Iraq is a clear example of this: events on the ground have created that reality, not American decisions, because the coalition’s deployments never had any impact on the vast majority of Iraqis.
However, we too have miscalculated. The UK, with or without its European partners, is a long way from having all the answers. When it comes to dealing with the US itself, we exaggerate our own effect. To the extent that we offer something materially useful to the Americans, such as small-scale but high-quality intelligence and military capabilities (especially in our special forces and counter-terrorism skills), or finely tuned diplomatic support in the multilateral arenas, we earn points. But we are left to one side in straight power play, unless we have gathered our own catalytic set of allies. Within the EU, we can be “top-table” players on trade, development and environmental issues. But we carry far less weight on matters concerning the Middle East, or China, or nuclear proliferation, or energy. On all of these, and more, we need the strength of the US and we need to earn American respect if we are to be treated as equal partners.