UK-US Relations Deep if Not Frequent: Special Relationship Still "Special"

07/14/2010 03:39 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Steve Clemons Washington Editor at Large of The Atlantic and founder and senior fellow of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation.

Special Relationship.jpgThe report of my death was an exaggeration.

-- Mark Twain

What follows below is a note from Martin Longden, Press Secretary and Head of Communications at the British Embassy, who recently concocted along with UK Ambassador Nigel Sheinwald the quip tagged to the outcome of a recent Ambassador to Ambassador steak dinner bet on the UK-US soccer match: "the Ambassador takes his steak like American soccer victories - somewhat rare."

Longden was responding to my "term search" blog post about Obama's mention of various countries -- good nations and rogue -- as well as Britain's fall from the heights.

I had originally reported that the United Kingdom appeared in only 8 of Obama's major speeches, statements and media commentaries as organized by The Washington Post. The number really should be 12 -- as the UK has so many aliases -- "The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland", England, Great Britain, Henry's Place (been watching The Tudors again). . .are there more?

Former House Foreign Affairs Committee Senior Staffer Hillel Weinberg, a regular reader of TWN, told me that we needed to upgrade the UK from 8 to 12 -- which still makes my point -- that even with aliases, Britain is not on the President's roster as much as was true previously.

Longden responds -- brilliantly as he usually does. We share his comments in reaction to our earlier piece:

big ben.jpg

Dear Steve:

What good fun! Thanks for flagging.

On a point of fact, it's not quite true that the UK "recently pushed through a resolution that it was downgrading the "special relationship" with the US to an important relationship".

A parliamentary committee last year recommended that, given the British press get so excited about the "special relationship", and that the state of the bilateral relationship generates such febrile media speculation, British Ministers should not use the phrase. And in a fantastically ironic affirmation of the committee's point, all the British media then wrote up this recommendation as "Death of the Special Relationship"!

In fact British Ministers continue to use the phrase - and do regard the relationship as special. In terms of the intelligence, defence, diplomatic, economic, cultural and all the other links, I think it's pretty special too.

I'm not sure there is any other relationship between two countries that rivals the depth and breath of our co-operation. But those of us who deal with the Americans at the diplomatic coal-face have never really obsessed about labels: the relationship is what it is, and we can be comfortable that both sides recognise that.

I still like the Post's new tool. But I'd caution against drawing a correlation between the number of mentions a country clocks and the warmth or importance of the bilateral relationship. Pace Nile Gardiner's most recent blog in the Telegraph, I'm not sure we need conclude that the stats reveal "Obama's blatant lack of interest in the Anglo-American alliance".

Talking publicly about a country doesn't necessarily reflect an intimacy of relations - indeed sometimes quite the converse. Nazi Germany figured a lot in Churchill's speeches - but I'm not sure he got on too well with the Fuehrer!

Trust all is good with you,


Martin Longden
Head of Communication & Press Secretary
British Embassy
3100 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington DC

The relationship is still special to me, but even more so after notes like this from the UK's cleverest diplomats. (In contrast, I had a recent note from a former senior US diplomat that opted instead for the bomb and bulldoze approach.)

-- Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note. Clemons can be followed on Twitter @SCClemons