This following article strives to investigate recent challenges in US- UK relations, and will proceed with the consequences of recent development in the Middle East for US-Anglo relations.
It is perceived that the UK's Iraq record strained the "special relationship". According to an American expert, Britain's lack of interest in Iraq after the invasion has "cast a long shadow" over the country's military reputation. In addition, David Ucko of the RAND Corporation argued in an article for IISS journal that "Britain's position in the changing world" had to be called into question. "Having entered Iraq as a junior coalition member, Britain was always less interested in seeing the operation through or responding robustly to new challenges," he wrote. "The limited engagement had crippling effects on the troops in theatre and strained the partnership with the United States.
The Americans were critical of UK presence in Afghanistan as well. The latest US diplomatic documents released by WikiLeaks contain harsh criticism of the UK military effort in Afghanistan from 2007 to 2009. Criticism of the British military effort goes back to 2007 when Gen McNeill was in charge of NATO forces. He criticized a deal with the Taliban which allowed British troops to be withdrawn from Musa Qala in 2006, saying it "opened the door to narco-traffickers in that area, and now it was impossible to tell the difference between the traffickers and the insurgents". Meanwhile, recent British forces’ withdrawal from Helmand under new US plan for Afghanistan brought back unhappy memories of the 2007 withdrawal from Basra in southern Iraq, which provoked jibes about British forces being bailed out by the Americans.
Moreover, the release of Al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber, by the Scottish government was an important factor in which the US-UK relationship was badly affected. Megrahi was freed on compassionate grounds by the Scottish Government on 20 August 2009 following doctors reporting on 10 August 2009 that he had terminal prostate cancer and was expected to have around three months to live. The US took a critical stance on the Lockerbie bomber’s release.
US president Barack Obama expressed surprise at the decision, stating "I think all of us here in the United States were surprised, disappointed and angry about the release".
According to analysts, the British government may have been pressing for the release of Al-Megrahi in order to secure economic deals with their new allies in Libya, which is contrary to international law and is despicable behavior. It can be argued that the release of Al-Megrahi, for the Americans, was not just about justice; it was also about trust — the White House saw the release of al-Megrahi as a blatant breach of an agreement with the British Government that he would serve out his sentence in Scotland. "It is impossible to sustain a relationship, let alone a special one, if one partner can no longer believe what the other one says."
In Whitehall there are already nervous mutterings about whether intelligence-sharing and military co-operation will be able to continue in the same way. The British Petroleum disaster in the Gulf of Mexico was another important factor that negatively affected US-UK relationship. US President Barack Obama pledged to hold BP accountable for the worst environmental disaster in US history. The event impacted Obama as he came under pressure to show that his administration was in charge of the effort to contain and stop the spill.
These developments undermined the quality of US-UK relations. However, recent changes in the Middle East bring the strategic allies together once more. Ever since a man in Tunisia burned himself to death in December 2010 in protest of his treatment by the police, pro-democracy rebellions have erupted across the Middle East. In fact, the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East have been widely described as secular rebellions led by middle-class; tech-savvy young people seeking economic and political justice.
Tunisia's president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali fled his country after days of mass protests culminated in a victory for people power over one of the Arab world's most repressive regimes. In Egypt, after 18 days of mass protest, Hosni Mubarak resigned and handed power to the military. The wave of protests spread to other authoritarian Arab states, such as Yemen and Bahrain and to Libya. However, the unexpected severe crackdown by Muhammad al-Gaddafi in Libya was not tolerated by Western countries, and they attacked to the country in a concerted action. The rationale behind implementing such international intervention policies was that by pooling their resources and acting in concert, they could improve their overall power position within the international system and their security relative to states outside the alliance.
The US president, in his recent visit to Britain, ended the false perception of the US-UK relationship by insisting that the two countries has a special responsibility to spread their shared values in the world, although those aspirations are colliding with facts on the ground. “Together we have met great challenges. But as we enter this new chapter in our shared history, profound challenges stretch before us,” Obama said. The visit culminated in Obama becoming the first US president to address both houses of parliament in medieval Westminster Hall, a venue he used to insist that Washington’s alliance with the former colonial power in the old world was “indispensable” today.
Today, the relationship with the United States represents the "most important bilateral partnership" in current British foreign policy, while United States foreign policy affirms its relationship with the United Kingdom as one of its most important enduring bilateral relationships, as evidenced in aligned political affairs, mutual cooperation in the areas of trade, commerce, finance, technology, academics, as well as in the arts and sciences; the sharing of government and military intelligence, and joint combat operations and peacekeeping missions carried out by the United States armed forces and the British armed forces. One should bear in mind that British forces participated in the United States-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and unlike France, Canada, Germany, China, and Russia, the United Kingdom fully supported the United States. The recent developments and the Arab spring are determining factors in understanding the depth of US-UK relations, and have illustrated that the "special relationship" is still special. (Iranian Diplomacy)