Can Romney rescue the special relationship?

Patrick Basham | Director, Democracy Institute

The transatlantic irony of the presidential election is that most Britons favor the anti-British candidate. Pew Research found 73 percent of Britons support President Obama’s re-election; only 11 percent support Mitt Romney.

But Romney’s demolition of Obama during their first debate shortened the odds that U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, an Obama cheerleader, wagered on the wrong American horse.

The saving grace for Cameron is that Romney is an instinctive anglophile with a transatlantic worldview. He’d be a natural ally who would prioritize the strengthening of America’s relationship with its key strategic partner.

Romney favors the unfashionable, yet still vital, U.S.-U.K. “special relationship.” An advocate of decentralized political decision-making, he’s inherently unsympathetic to the ongoing transfer of sovereignty from London to Brussels.

Obama, though, displays no more than a perfunctory appreciation for the U.K.’s external role. No fan of the special relationship, Obama set the new tone early.

Following his inauguration, the bust of Winston Churchill that the U.K. lent America as a symbol of the special relationship was removed from the Oval Office. Obama has publicly slighted the U.K. on more than a dozen occasions and, according to British diplomatic sources, on several other private occasions.

Why does he act this way? At his core, Obama is an anti-colonial politician. His paternal relatives’ experiences left him unsympathetic to Britain’s interests and suspicious of her motives.

For example, Obama’s memoir discusses his Kenyan grandfather’s imprisonment and torture in a British colonial prison camp. It’s through this personal, yet anachronistic, prism that a supposedly post-modern president views relations with London. Hence, Obama instructed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to take Argentina’s side regarding sovereignty over the Falkland Islands.

The Obama administration’s indifference to British interests is tantamount to the betrayal of America’s oldest, best friend. Obama’s treatment of his nation’s most steadfast ally should worry Britons (and Americans) tremendously, for the special relationship still matters a lot.

First, U.S.-U.K. economic ties are enormous and growing. U.S.-U.K. bilateral trade is worth more than $200 billion annually. American investment in the U.K. economy totals well over $500 billion; U.K. investment in the American economy stands at nearly $450 billion.

During the past decade, U.S. net investment flows into the U.K. were nearly seven times U.S. net investment flows into China. U.K. net investment flows into the U.S. were 100 times Chinese net investment flows into the U.S.

Pivoting toward Asia, as Obama is doing, may be the trendy move; however, it may be unwise. No matter how tempting Asian attractions may be to pursue, taking one’s eye off the transatlantic economic ball is a high-risk strategy with potentially costly consequences for both nations’ economies.

Second, the U.K. makes a critical contribution to American security. Many of the past decade’s most significant counterterrorism successes, for instance, resulted from an essential, if severely tested, U.S.-U.K. security partnership.

The British military and security services continue to provide their American counterparts with pivotal logistical, operational, and intelligence cooperation. The bilateral security relationship has prevented many terrorist attacks on British and American soil, as well as against their respective interests abroad.

Yet, Obama is still planning large cuts in defense and intelligence spending. A militarily weaker America will be a less secure, and a far less reliable, British ally.

Third, Romney appreciates that the special relationship, at its core, reflects a historic commitment to preserving economic liberty and defending each other’s national interest.

In striking contrast, Obama-the-internationalist epitomizes today’s faddish preference for submerging national sovereignty — and, consequently, the national interest — within illiberal multinational institutions, such as the E.U. and the U.N.

Nonetheless, the next Big Idea in foreign policy isn’t “progressive” global governance. It’s the Anglosphere.

The Anglosphere is centered on the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, that is, a core group of still-leading countries who share a language, a common set of values, a legal history, and a longstanding tradition of cooperation.

Foreign policy realists increasingly believe the Anglosphere will remain the pre-eminent economic, military, technological, and cultural power for the rest of this century. Progress on the most pressing international problems may be impossible without the Anglosphere’s contribution.

Obama, as a citizen-of-the-world, naturally resists this back-to-the-future tide. As his country’s coolest president, he wants America to be viewed as the 21st century’s coolest nation. And her besuited, provincial cousins in the Anglosphere are oh so terribly 20th century.

Prior to his debate performance, Romney was caricatured as an out-of-touch patrician stuck in an earlier age. Ironically, Romney’s worldview actually places him at the forefront of the next foreign policy paradigm.

For the Anglosphere to work effectively, each member nation must be economically robust. And their relationships with one another must be complementary and mutually supportive.

Obama’s re-election, however, would be bad news on both fronts. It portends, at best, an anemic American economic recovery that won’t rescue a British economy again mired in recession.

Romney’s menu of spending cuts, lower taxes, and less regulation is far more likely to produce high economic growth. Such productive motion will create a transatlantic ripple effect.

Obama’s re-election also would be bad political news for the British. Obama doesn’t appreciate that the quest for new friends doesn’t necessitate the shunning of one’s oldest friend.

Revealingly, although Britons still like him, only 41 percent think Obama has considered British interests when making foreign policy decisions. A second-term Obama administration will continue to rate the U.K. as no more than a second-tier foreign policy concern frequently taken for granted or simply ignored.

However, a Romney presidency would re-establish the U.K. as a first-tier policy priority. Once again, America’s default position would be having Britain’s back.

Patrick Basham directs the Democracy Institute, a London- and Washington-based think tank, and is a Cato Institute adjunct scholar.

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