Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The Special Relationship

The recent visit of the American President to the United Kingdom has highlighted a phrase that has been in common use since the 1980s when describing the relationship between Britain and America.  The term 'Special Relationship' has been bandied around the media as if it were something new.  It even went so far as calling it the 'Essential Relationship'!  So, do Britain and America have this 'Special Relationship' or is it some hype used to sell papers and highlight America?  Considering that the average British opinion of the United States has reached an all time low recently, is it propaganda to try and counter the wave of anti-American feelings?  American opinion of the British is at an all time high, probably as a result of Britain unconditionally assisting the US on their war on terror, but do they believe that there is a Special Relationship between our two countries?

If we delve back in time, you begin to wonder why the British government believes we have a Special Relationship with the United States.  The US has been instrumental in the numerous financial problems facing Britain since the end of the Second World War.  So, how do historical events support this proclamation of a Special Relationship?

At the end of the 19th century, Britain was the major Superpower in the world.  It had the largest empire in history and was wealthy beyond belief.  The world trade was controlled by London and they could make or break countries by a single word.  The First World War was the beginning of the end of the British Empire and the cost in men and materiel weakened Britain and its empire.  By the time of the Second World War, Britain was struggling in its fight against Nazi Germany.  America had staunchly declared its neutrality in this war, President Wilson successfully argued against intervention leaving Britain to fight alone.

There are numerous possible reasons why America joined the Second World War on the side of Britain.  This may come as a shock, but America was undecided about which side to support.  The sinking of several ships carrying American citizens (after Hitler promised not to target ships carrying Americans) and the fact that Britain and France owed a substantial amount of money to the United States may have been enough to tilt opinion on the side of the British, but the fact that America needed Britains influence around the world for trade was possibly the deciding factor.

But it wasn't free.

Britain had to pay for the help from the United States.  It was hoped that because of the amicable relationship between Churchill and the American President that favourable terms would be agreed, such as a grant or a gift.  Instead America offered a loan at 2% interest.  The loan was for $4.33 Billion ($53 Billion at todays prices).  This loan was finally paid off in 2006.  One of the conditions of the loan was the convertibility of Sterling and this was the most damaging thing that America could have done to Britain (a long and complicated story).  So, no support here for the Special Relationship!

The World War did see the closest military alliance in the history of the world.  This wartime experience did continue after the war with Britain and America sharing a partnership, although Britain was considered the junior partner.  America benefitted from the connections of the British Empire, ironic considering that America had spent a great deal of effort trying to dismantle it.  America, however, had its own agenda and wanted Britain to be instrumental in the creation of a united Europe.  The simplistic view of this can be that of security, America wanted a barrier between itself and the USSR, but America also wanted to use its influence in Europe through Britain, guiding Europe to adopt US policies.  However, Britain refused to be used in this manner arguing that British interests were worldwide and not solely in Europe.

So, still no sign of this Special Relationship.

During the war, European scientists made a breakthrough in the use of atomic fission.  Britain wrote a secret report about how an atomic bomb could be made and shared this information with America.  Scientists from both countries worked on the atomic bomb at Los Alamos, but the Americans refused to share the technology needed to actually make the bomb!  In 1946 the US passed the McMahon Act forbidding the sharing of any information about atomic technology, even to the British who had given them the know-how to actually make the bomb!  In response to this, the British decided to make her own atomic bombs, led by William Penny who had worked with the Americans at Los Alamos.  Ironically, although the Americans clamped down on the sharing of atomic technology, it was an American that passed the details onto the USSR enabling them to create their own bomb.

Definitely no Special Relationship there.

It wasn't until some years later, after Britain had proved that it had its own atomic ability did the US agree to resume nuclear relations.

The Suez crisis of 1956 saw Britain and America on opposite sides.  When Britain attacked Egypt (as a result of Nasser nationalising the Suez Canal) along with France and Israel, Americas reaction was severe.  As well as not assisting the British, the US sent the sixth fleet to the Mediterranean to sit alongside the British fleet, telling the whole world that the US was opposed to the British action.  This resulted in the value of Sterling plummeting and the US even blocked Britain from drawing her legal drawing from the IMF.  This resulted in humiliation for the British, a financial crisis and the refusal of the American Presiden, Eisenhower, to speak with the British Prime Minister.

Sounds like a cold relationship now.

This debacle was a wake up call to the British.  No longer did they have the ability to project their influence in the world, at least without the help of the Americans.  For a country that had ruled the world for centuries, this was a very bitter pill to swallow.  This open slap in the face and Britains inability to protects its empire paved the way to them joining the European Union in 1961.  Britain was in bad shape, its economic growth was microscopic and its standing in the international community was at an all time low.  America had, in essence, sundered what was left of Britains empire.  This act would return to bite America.

By the mid 70s, Britians economy was in tatters, her armed forces continued to be cut and the left wing of the Labour Party was becoming a real contender for power in the government.  This was not good news for the Americans.  A left wing Labour government would certainly be anti-American and with good reason.  If that happened, they could have insisted of the removal of all US personnel from the bases in Britain, withdraw from NATO and, possibly, become anti-nuclear.  This could have easily paved the way for a communist Britain, something that America was terrified of.  It was during this time that America saw Germany as its primary ally in Europe.  With the loss of the empire and its numerous financial crises', the attraction of Britain as a primary ally were bleak.

America, for so long the most vocal in its disapprobation of the British Empire, had now lost its own ability to projects its influence.  Not only that, with the withdrawal of the British from its colonies, it paved the way for the vacuum to be filled by communism.  I wonder if the American government ever regretted its actions against Britain?  The fall of the British empire certainly didn't help them and their continued efforts to control Britain always failed leading to a once prosperous country become destitute and in trouble of becoming ripe for the influence of communism.

It wasn't until Mrs. Thatcher became Prime Minister did the relationship between Britain and America begin to blossom.  It has been said that Mrs. Thatcher and President Reagan were ideological soulmates. They also got along famously, a British satire programme 'Spitting Image' would often depict them in bed together.  This was the first sign of a Special Relationship.

It was during this period that the relationship between the two countries began to come together again.  The friendships between British and American diplomatic officials as well as the heads of state lead to an increase in confidence with each other.  The outcome of the Falklands war, a complicated and difficult accomplishment considering the logistics and coordination involved, not only showed the world that Britain could establish its will half a world away, but also instilled confidence in the British armed forces that had, until the war, been steadily reduced.  The outcome was never considered cut and dry by the Americans who were pondering over which side they should have supported (America needing its links into South America through Argentina).

The friendship and respect between the diplomatic communities of both countries has continued to grow.  The close links between the military and intelligence organisations has become inseparable.

Having spent over 22 years in the British Army, I have constantly worked closely with my American counterparts.  The Americans have excellent technology but the British have hundreds of years of experience fighting ground wars and counter insurgency operations.  Together, with American technology and British know how, the armed forces of the two countries have worked well together.  Not only is there trust between them, but also mutual respect.  The intelligence community, although they have their differences, have worked closely together sharing information that is not shared with anyone else within the NATO alliance.  America has come to rely upon the support of the British and the British have never stinted in their support.

After 9/11, there was the risk that America would become xenophobic.  When you look at the number of Americans that have actually left America on their travels, you can understand why.  The public support by the British may have been influential in the American view of the world.  Hell, most of the world were behind America after that atrocious attack as there were not only Americans killed when the towers were hit.  But it was Britain that unreservedly supported America in her War on Terror campaign and still do to this day.

America and Britain have a unique relationship, that cannot be denied.  I am sure that America has unique relationships with other countries as well.  We cannot be naive enough to think that Britain alone has a 'Special' relationship with America.  How does America view the relationship?  I can't answer that, having never been American, but, as a member of the British Armed Forces visiting America on holiday, all I can say is that the Americans treat us better than our own society does.  For that, Britain should be ashamed of itself.

Every country has its own national agenda supporting what the government at the time believes is best for its citizens.  At the moment, we share a very good relationship with America and I hope it lasts forever.  Not so many years ago, it was joked that Britain would become an American State because of our unreserved support.  Maybe we do have a Special Relationship, but if we do, it is based on a very rocky past.  For now, lets enjoy the benefits (even if it does mean I cannot live in America as I planned to!).

I have to end this piece with thanks to Professor Kathleen Burk for her excellent piece 'Anglo-American Relations: Where we are, and how we got here. '  I would recommend watching the video and understanding in much more detail how our relationship has been.  I have added my views and experience, she is an expert!

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

To Blog or Not to Blog?

Let's face it, most of us crave attention.  Be it from our loved ones, our pets or even the whole world, we are a social animal and that's one of the reasons things like Facebook and the like are so popular.  If we don't get attention and people ignore us, we go and sulk.  Well, I do!

Which leads me nicely onto my subject.  Why do we blog?  Why blog if people aren't reading your witty yet insightful articles that both stimulate the brain and the laughter muscle?
You have to agree that blogging has to be one of the more difficult of the social networking options.  Although you could get away with writing a single line of text every now and then, you would probably be better off sticking to Facebook or Twitter.  Blogging requires a certain amount of skill.  Being able to write whole sentences is useful, too.  Blogging requires thought and time and is usually a thankless task.

I started blogging as a means to keep my brain at least partially occupied.  I have always wanted to be able to write and I thought that if I wrote some witty articles as well as some more serious, I would garner a loyal following and get pleasure in entertaining my readers.  As I have mentioned in a previous blog, I don't actually find writing easy and often just stare at the screen, my mind blank and my fingers unmoving, hovering above the keyboard waiting for any hint of activity in my brain.  This can last seconds of even hours.  Sometimes I don't write an article for weeks and then a flurry of them appear, all at once as my brain disgorges whatever thoughts have been running through my drug addled brain.  I have started another site where I decided that I would give my thoughts on current affairs (there is a link somewhere on this page) just to see if that is what people out there prefer to read.  So far it isn't working.

So why continue if all I am doing is writing articles that people don't read?

I suppose that I am in the same situation as many other bloggers out there in cyberworld.  There are a few extremely talented people who have the ability to draw in readers, either because they write what is interesting or their skill in writing is just worth reading.  There are others that use the blog as a photo album; their pictures are stunning to look at and we keep going back for more eye candy.  But for the majority of us, a few friends reading your earnestly written missive is the best we can hope for.

There is another thing that I have noticed since I started taking this blogging malarkey more seriously.  When I am not well enough to open my Macbook (a quick advertisement there!) I worry that I should be writing something on my site.  Why am I worrying?  It's not like I have a deadline or a million people will miss out on anything.  It's purely psychological.  I imagine that those few readers I have will give up on me if I don't post regularly.  How's that for preposterous?  However preposterous it may sound, I'm afraid it's a fact!

No matter who does or does not read my scratchings, I still enjoy sitting here and typing on the keyboard, throwing random letters together and sometimes creating sentences that make sense.  It's a purely selfish thing.  I enjoy the fact that somebody, someday will enter a word into a search engine and a link to my humble yet awesome blog appears.  Out of curiosity, that person clicks the link and is rewarded by pages of obscure scribblings from some bloke in England.  Most rewarding of all, however, is that this person actually enjoys reading my musings and clicks on yet another article.  Later that same day, the unknown person sends a link to my blog to a friend or two, suggesting that they may enjoy a moment or four reading this blog.  Ahhh, isn't fantasy world a wonderful place!

Back in the real world, my unknown person doesn't even register the link to my site from their search results and moves onto a flash game that will occupy him or her, for a few moments because they are bored at work.  May I suggest Peggle?  It's a lot of fun!

So endeth another musing session, with a little fantasy added for extra appeal.  I shall continue to dream and my space allowance on this site will gradually diminish as I post more and more literary masterpieces (I did say fantasy was added).  I feel sorry for those that are unfortunate enough not to have found my blog and revel in my abstract insights and dark humour.  I write for the simple pleasure of writing.  I sometimes read my own ramblings and laugh at my na├»ve and sometimes conceited opinions.  It keeps me occupied and entertained.

So, I blog just for the sake of blogging and the enjoyment I get from writing.  It's just a pity that the ability to write is in decline, but that is another subject for another day.  For those of you that do read this, thank you and I hope it brought at least a smirk for your trouble.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The Death of Bin Laden?

On the 2nd May, the media in the United Kingdom and probably most of the world, reported the death of Osama Bin Laden, America's most wanted man for nearly 10 years now.  He was reportedly killed the day before as the result of a US Military raid on a 'luxury' house in Abbottabad, some 35 miles north of the Capital of Pakistan, Islamabad.

In the UK, we awoke to the news and the speech given by the US President, Barack Obama.  The President gave a brief description of what happened and how Bin Laden was killed as the result of a covert raid made by US Special Forces.  The Pakistani government were not informed and were not aware of the raid until it had happened.  Fortunately, there were no US lives lost considering that the chances for a 'blue on blue' encounter must have been high.

The death of Bin Laden sparked a media frenzy in the UK.  Some of them were even embarrassed by showing a photograph of a dead Bin Laden that was later found to be a fake.  However, therein lies one of the first things I will query, the fact that there have been no photographic evidence of his death.  Obviously the conspiracy theorists have jumped on board the band wagon and claims that Bin Laden is not really dead have ensued.

This article will pursue some of the questions now being asked.  Why was Bin Laden buried at sea?  Why have there been no pictures of the dead Bin Laden?  How was he able to hide in Pakistan without the authorities knowing?  I hope to address these and some others.

Bin Laden has been America's most wanted man for many years now.  After fleeing Afghanistan and eluding the attempts by the coalition forces to capture him, the US have been very single minded in pursuing him.  It was believed that he was hiding in the mountainous region of Waziristan, bordering Afghanistan and a known Pashtun tribal region.  Locating anyone in this region of Pakistan is very difficult for numerous reasons including tribal loyalties.

The fact that Bin Laden was found in a town near the Pakistani capital came as a surprise to many.  Apparently the house did not have internet or telephone connectivity and came under suspicion by American intelligence agencies.  Possible but not probable.  The chances are that it was brought to the attention of an intelligence agency, through whatever means and further information gathering ensued.  That notwithstanding, however he was found it would have been hard to believe unless verified by other sources.

The plan to attack the house was bold and telling at the same time.  Bold in the way that the US were perfectly happy to invade a sovereign territory without so much as a 'by your leave'.  Notice I said bold and not surprising.  America, no matter what the rhetoric, obviously do not trust Pakistan and not without good reason.  The Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI, has long been linked to the extremists although the media phrase it as 'murky dealings'.  Not only that, I doubt that the Americans trust the Pakistani government as much as they tell the public.  In most cases, allies do not carry out operations on another ally's soil, but this has never stopped the Americans in the past.  Even Britain, who are supposed to have a 'special relationship' with America have experienced that.  America, however, obviously believes it has the right to ignore international law whenever it suits them.  Let's face it, they are a superpower and who is going to stop them?

I will, however, tip my hat to the personnel that carried out the operation.  A covert operation can very easily go wrong because someone pops up at the wrong time and then everything goes to pot.  The fact that there was a Pakistani military compound not too far away from the target location would have been a factor on their minds.  Fortunately, the mission was a success and nobody was lost.  Apart from Bin Laden.  Allegedly.

According to the officials, Bin Laden was buried at sea.  Does this not strike anyone else as odd?  When Saddam was captured his picture was plastered everywhere.  Even when his sons, Qusay and Uday were killed, the grisly pictures were shown, just to prove that they were dead and gone.  However, America's most wanted man just fades into oblivion?  I doubt it very much.  However, to counter that argument, showing a picture of a dead Bin Laden could incite more fervour in his martyrdom.  It's swings and roundabouts in this case.  Personally, I don't think showing a picture of the dead Bin Laden is going to lessen the fact that the extremists are going to hail him as a martyr.  The fact that he may have hidden behind his wife like a coward will not change anything.

The conspiracy theorists have latched onto this like a Rotweiller that hasn't eaten in a week.  Is this just propaganda by the US?  Did the US President want the case closed before the tenth anniversary of the horrific attack in New York?  There are bound to be many more.  I don't consider myself one of these fruitcakes but I do have a supposition.

First we will need to go back a few years to the good old days of the Cold War.  In the days when the East faced the West, 'spies' were prolific.  Their covert activities spawned many fictional characters and just as many media stories.  In this covert war, it wasn't unusual for people to change sides.  Defections from east to west and vice versa made the headlines and sometimes led to the death of the defector.  This leads me onto my supposition.  If you wanted to keep a defector secret, you faked his or her death.  It happened numerous times, mostly by the west so they could garner more valuable intelligence from the defectee.  The problem with defecting publicly is that once the opposition knows, all the secrets the defector may know become compromised and damage limitation occurs.

So, consider this.  Although Bin Laden is technically a figure head for al-Qaeda, he is held in very high regard and is privy to information any intelligence agency would sell their grandmothers for.  Not only would he know cell leaders, quartermasters and the like, he may even know of some future operations.  If he does know of future operations, his capture alive would compromise them and those involved may scrap or even change their plans.  His death, however, ensure that whatever he knows dies with him.

It is common knowledge that former KGB agents who were allegedly killed have been found alive and well.  How great a leap is it to consider that Bin Laden was captured and is now on his way to his new home in some ultra high security location with a very small room and white noise as a background?  Just because the President of the United States stood up in front of a camera and said something does not make it the truth.  The Americans have already experienced that and even in American law, there is no proof of death unless there is a body.

The Pakistani government has come under increased scrutiny as a result of this incident and are probably embarrassed by it.  Questions will be asked about how much did they really know, if they knew anything at all.  It is probable that this incident will have further strained the already tense US/Pakistan relationship and I can only foresee further deterioration unless one party does something significant.  That, however, is unlikely and Pakistan may become isolated in its position.  Already add odds with its neighbour, India, the last thing we need now is another nuclear power becoming anti-western.  America has to accept a proportion of the blame, too.  Although its motives may have made sense to the powers that be, they would have known how it would play out for Pakistan.  If, indeed, Pakistan was compliant in assisting Bin Laden then they deserve no less, in my opinion.  If they were not, then this is an unfortunate blow that could have been avoided.

As an aside, let's address the arrogance of America - not necessarily its people (although many would support their country's actions without thought) but its government and associated agencies.  America has long believed that what it does is for the good of all.  It is that arrogance that is going to cause a serious problem some day.  A perfect example would be the al Qaeda plot to use liquid bombs on trans atlantic aircraft.  The plot involved another prominent al Qaeda member, Rashid Rauf, who resided in Pakistan.  British intelligence had uncovered a plot involving a number of radicalised britons and a plan to use liquid explosives.  They informed the US intelligence agencies and kept them abreast of developments.  However, the US became nervous as it became apparent that the time of the planned attack was fast approaching.  The British were confident that nothing could happen until certain things happened, like the purchase of airline tickets.  Not happy with the British and not trusting their ability to contain the situation, the then head of the CIA, Director Hayden made a visit to Pakistan.

The whole operation hinged on the extremists in Britain contacting the al Qaeda member, Rashid Rauf in Pakistan.  It was not pure coincidence that during Director Hayden's visit to Pakistan Rauf was arrested.  This forced the British into premature action that could have compromised the whole case and wasted a lot of work, money and man hours.  Fortunately the arrests were made but no thanks to the Americans who deny that there were any disagreements during the operation.  As an aside, Rauf escaped custody and remains free to conduct other operations.

I am sure that America means well, but a common saying is that good intentions pave the way to hell.  Considering I don't believe in hell, let's replace it with a horrendous mistake.  As it is, a prominent al Qaeda member is free to plan additional attacks, which brings me nicely onto ramifications.

There is little doubt that Bin Laden will be name a martyr, but not just an ordinary, run of the mill martyr.  His 'death' will no doubt inspire others, but the same could be said for him while he was alive.  Extremist will have another excuse for their despicable actions, but they had plenty of those anyway.  Will their be an increase in the threat to Americans and Europeans?  The threat was already extant and I doubt it will change.  What could happen is the change of time-tables or random, unplanned and uncoordinated attacks.  These are harder to predict and will, naturally, be a media headline with the blame falling on the various intelligence agencies and links to Bin Laden's 'death'.

No matter what has happened to Bin Laden, I hope that he really has been removed from the playing field.  Whether he is alive or dead means little in the overall scheme of things aside from the fact that useful information could be gained from him.  The man was a ruthless and vile individual who considered innocent men, women and children legitimate targets for violence.  His twisted preaching of the Koran was an insult to Muslims who, like us, abhorred the things he did in the name of Islam.  It is unfortunate that his removal will change nothing and extremist will continue to scheme but at least we know that a man with no empathy or compassion is no longer able to flaunt his ability to avoid justice or to cause anymore harm to anyone else.