Friday, October 15, 2010

Because We Have Twelve

The Times article on Secretary Clinton's public comments about the UK defense budget has been updated and has enough comments that you can see the main threads of tensions in the Special Relationship.  Leaving aside the diplomatic bungling of Clinton's questioning, in general terms, a Brit tends to think either that the US doesn't appreciate the UK enough for the sacrifices it makes, or that we have lied about or exaggerated the West's defense condition and the the world is actually safe enough to justify cutbacks.

I dismiss the second premise as foolish delusions worthy of Neville Chamberlin.  For those that still live in denial, on both sides of the Atlantic, I can only assume that they simply don't want to hear the truth, and I will waste no time tonight shouting to the willing deaf.

As for us not appreciating British efforts, when it comes to the lives of soldiers, this is simply not true.  I don't know any American who is not grateful for the soldiers committed.  I will grant, however, that Americans don't always appreciate how much more of a financial burden the UK carries than other allies. As many commenters stated, we should seek more assistance from the Continent. That is certainly true.

But here is why we often miss how much the UK does give.  We provide so much more.  For example, the UK defense budget debate focuses in part on the waste of aircraft carriers.  The UK has two and is stopping production on others.  A couple commenters note that the seas are calm enough and that two carriers is over kill.  But the seas are calm because we have twelve carriers.  And one of our carriers wields the power and capacity of all of the rest of the world's carriers combined.  The UK, and the rest of the world, enjoy calm seas because we have twelve.   Yes, we aren't making any more carriers right now either, but we have twelve.

Some commented that perhaps Brits should give us a bill for services we've used.  That might not be the strongest line of argument against the US.  All of Europe's bloated domestic budgets and anemic defense budgets are possible because we have twelve carriers, because we planted the weed that was the Marshall Plan, because we have boots on the ground all over Europe, and yet only ask for the room to bury our dead.

The Temptation of the American Isolationist Soul

Many Americans harbor an isolationist fantasy.  Isolationism is coded in our cultural DNA.   We hear, constantly, that Europe doesn't want us around so we often daydream about packing up, holing up at home, and leaving Europe to it.  Everyone is getting a small peek at a 'small America' world order with the current administration.  Whenever we indulge in our daydream though, the more sober among us realize that our current defense position is of our own making.  We carried the water for so long that Europe isn't capable of doing it.  We can't shrug. The consequences are too horrifying.

So yes, the UK gives far more than anyone else.  And yes, we appreciate it.  But that doesn't change the fact that even the UK is walking away, and they know it.

UPDATE: In a few days, I guess, we will know how they chose.

UPDATE 2:  The Brits had to do some back door financing to the military after the "Arab Spring" and Libya.

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