Donald Trump's cancellation is an embarrassment for both sides of the Special Relationship, argues Chris Nineham
Few can believe Trump’s given reasons for this second pullout. A full itinerary had been drawn up for the trip, including a visit with the Queen and a Winston Churchill theme night. Doubts about the budget for the new embassy build could hardly have been the issue. No doubt tensions between the two leaders were a factor but in the end what was decisive was that the majority of people in Britain profoundly disapprove of Trump’s values and antics and a significant number of them are prepared to take to the streets to express that disgust. Even the Daily Mail suggests potential protests were ‘a major factor’. If it hadn’t been for the commitment of hundreds of thousands to take to the streets in the event of his coming we can be sure that Trump would have travelled to what is widely regarded as the US’s number one ally by now.
It is a serious embarrassment to both the governments involved that Trump has visited fifteen countries before coming to Britain and that there is still no trip in the diary. It is partly a measure of the political disarray in both Whitehall and Washington. It also points to the fact that protest and mass mobilisation can prevail and can face down even the most powerful. But just as important it reveals a political dynamic in Britain very different to the one often portrayed by the commentariat. Britain is a country with widely held left-wing views in which the traditional automatic and unquestioning acceptance of the special relationship is a thing of the past.
Partly this is about revulsion with Trump himself. He is, of course, a uniquely xenophobic, reactionary and irresponsible President. But it also has deeper roots. It stems from the Bush/Blair partnership and the toxic legacy of the Iraq War and the other military adventures in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and beyond. It is a product too of the dreadful experience of the free market, big business policies that have been promoted by a series of presidential and prime ministerial partnerships over the last few decades. As well as finding expression in the diverse anti-Trump movements, this radical and internationalist mood is one of the drivers of Corbyn’s ascendancy.
No surprise perhaps that as foreign wars and neoliberal economics have fallen into disrepute, the Anglo-American political axis that has promoted them is looking shaky. It is an extremely significant development though. The transatlantic alliance has led to untold damage around the world. It has always been a relationship of domination by the US but at the same time provided successive UK governments with an alibi for all sorts of malpractice.
As well as continuing to prepare to scupper another possible visit by Donald Trump in the autumn, we should be doing everything we can to bury the special relationship itself by demanding an end to US-led foreign policy over Saudi, Iran, North Korea and elsewhere. The victory over this visit is a challenge to the still common view that the Labour leadership should tone down its anti-war positions in the search for more votes. It suggests in fact that Labour has real space to develop a new, independent and less catastrophic foreign policy with public support. That would be making history.
Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.
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