Whither Global Britain: Six Characters in Search of a Policy
Aug. 24 , 2021 (EIRNS)—The British Royal establishment continues to have fits over Biden’s handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal—not really over the Afghanistan withdrawal as such, rather that Biden is doing it without “consulting” London. This has implications for Boris Johnson’s “Global Britain,” which has no legs to stand on, without being buttressed by U.S. military muscle.
Lord Kim Darroch, the former zone-flooding British ambassador to the U.S., warned that the “foreign policy disaster that is the Afghan withdrawal” risks undermining Johnson’s Global Britain project. Global Britain was an “interesting and potentially lucrative, sensible path for the U.K. to go on,” Darroch told BBC Radio 4 on Aug. 23, but now, the handling of the exit from Kabul, as well as other recent policy decisions, would hamper such ambitions. “We have reduced foreign aid; we have done a defense review which does a number of good things but which reduces the size of the British Army; we have done trade deals which, with one exception, duplicate [existing] EU deals and we have rather passively acquiesced in the foreign policy disaster that is the Afghan withdrawal,” he said. “It is going to take quite a long time for the West as a whole—because it is a Western failure, a Western disaster, this is not just the U.K. and the U.S.—to recover from all this, to recover our reputation.”
Darroch’s stint in Washington, it will be recalled, ended prematurely in 2019 when the Daily Mail tabloid published diplomatic cables showing that he was working to undermine President Donald Trump or even have him removed from office because of the fear in London that Trump might break the U.S. from its lockstep with British geopolitics.
Philip Collins, political columnist for the Evening Standard, said yesterday that it would have made no difference if Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab had been in Whitehall instead of lounging on the beach in Crete. “A Foreign Secretary asleep on a sun lounger is the perfect visual metaphor for British foreign policy after Brexit and the demise of the American desire to police the world,” he writes. With Britain now on bad terms with both the U.S. and the EU, “ ‘Global Britain’ is proving to be two words without content.”
In an earlier column Aug. 20 in the Evening Standard, Gen. Sir Nick Parker (ret.), who commanded British troops in Afghanistan, and Standard Defense Editor Robert Fox warned that the week’s events in Kabul “provide a severe reality check to Britain’s role in the world—in particular our involvement in international missions that demand the use of military force.”
“The precipitous Biden exit from Afghanistan,” they write, sends “worrying signals. It highlights contempt for NATO; key partners Britain, France and Germany were not even consulted. It also shows an alliance fragile without U.S. leadership.”
Dan Sabbagh, the Guardian’s defense and security editor, drew the contrast on Aug. 22 between Biden’s ignoring the British on Afghanistan—he took more than 24 hours to respond to a request for a phone call from Boris Johnson last week—to the outlook expressed in the Integrated Review on foreign and defense policy, released in March. That document “confidently asserted that ‘the United States will remain the U.K.’s most important strategic ally and partner’ where Britain functions as a smaller partner to the most powerful military power on the planet.”
Lord Peter Ricketts, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee under Tony Blair, writes in an angry column today in the New Statesman that the Afghanistan crisis has exposed the “delusions of grandeur” of Global Britain. “Five months ago, the government published an Integrated Review of foreign and defense policy,” Ricketts writes. “Its central thesis was that the U.K.’s recovered sovereignty [post-Brexit] and close links with Washington would enable it to ‘turn the dial on international issues of consequence’ and ‘shape the international order of the future.’ These airy assumptions of British exceptionalism have not survived their first contact with reality, however. As Theresa May asked with scorn in the [Aug. 18] Commons debate: ‘Where is Global Britain on the streets of Kabul?’ ”