Just How Special? Brexit leads to new questions on Anglo-American relations

Ed Bithell

Barack Obama is a man used to having his voice heard. 

And yet, when he came to the UK, often referred to as the US’s closest ally, to express his views on our biggest foreign policy decision in forty years (in fact, since the one we might be about to reverse), that didn’t quite happen. The irony, of course, is that it was the very Eurosceptics who tout our “special relationship” with the with the US as more important than Europe that dismissed his statement that a post-Brexit UK would be at the “back of the queue” in US trade priorities (a statement which clearly showed his pro-British sentiments with its concessions to the word “queue”, whatever Boris Johnson says). 

Suddenly, Obama was irrelevant, his views on Brexit an intrusion on our decision as a nation, despite his government’s policy being the cornerstone of Brexiteers’ trade plans. He was also accused of having bias against the UK informed by his Kenyan ancestry, an accusation that combined the unpleasant tactic of deemphasising his American nationality with a possible admission that the narrative of strong links and trust with former colonies being a somewhat rose-tinted view of the past.

But the cat was out of the bag. Despite what Boris thinks, the elected president of the United States doesn’t think that the UK is more of a priority than the EU - and even if he did, the least active Congress in the history of the United States would be unlikely to hammer out a brand new trade agreement in the foreseeable future for him anyway. On the other side of the political spectrum, Brexit has only been championed by Ted Cruz with even Donald Trump, whom even Boris Johnson found himself dismissing as talking xenophobic nonsense, declining to endorse the Leave camp. 

However, the main reason that nobody else’s views can really be examined is that Barack Obama is pretty much the only politician in the entire United States who has time to spend more than a sentence at a time discussing something other than the next presidential election. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have expressed support for the EU and Ted Cruz has attacked it, both because it stands for big government and because it was an opportunity to contradict Obama, but these are merely facets of their overall statements on US foreign policy - because that is, and will remain, their priority until November, by which time the EU question will be long decided. It is further symptomatic of Donald Trump’s general attitude to politics that he did not express a view - after all, it might find itself in conflict with a more important view that he wishes to hold later on. Presidential candidates aside, prominent members of the US Congress have uniformly declined to express any view. In fact, politicians in the US are remarkably unified in their opinion that it is the decision of the British people alone.

As a result, we see more from the response of the rest of the USA’s political heavyweights (and Ted Cruz) than we do from President Obama. It isn’t that the top flight of American politics are anti-British, or in cahoots with the Eurocrats. It’s simply that our relationship with the EU isn’t their priority. And when we notice that, perhaps we can re-evaluate our relationship with them.

Photo from the Executive Office of the President of the United States.

Obama’s bid to close Guantanamo

Hubert Cruz

On Tuesday (23 February), President Obama announced a plan to close the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, and urged Congress to support his proposal. Guantanamo was opened by the Bush administration in 2002 to detain foreign terror suspects, and has held 780 suspected militants to date. The facility has been criticised for violating the rights of detainees since most of them have been held without charges, and there were also reports of torture and abuse in the compound.

President Obama assumed office in 2009 with a major pledge to close Guantanamo. However, he has only made incremental progress since then by relocating prisoners that were considered to be minimal security risks overseas. Currently there are still 91 prisoners in Guantanamo. Under the plan presented to Congress, 35 of them would be transferred to other countries, while the remaining would be held in facilities on US soil with some potentially facing trial.

The President appealed to the Republican-controlled Congress by citing up to $180m in military expenditure could be saved if Guantanamo is closed. He also argues keeping Guantanamo open to be inconsistent with US values, and hurts the country’s reputation and partnerships in the world. Nevertheless, prominent Republicans in Congress have already raised objections to hosting terror suspects on the US mainland. The President has not stated whether he would unilaterally pursue executive action if Congress blocks his plan.

Do you think the US government should close Guantanamo? Is President Obama’s plan feasible? Whatever your view, send it in - via Twitter, Facebook or our website. Below are a few pieces of articles for you to find out more about the issue:

The New York Times – Obama Sends Plan to Close Guantánamo to Congress

The Guardian – ‘No one but himself to blame’: how Obama's Guantánamo plans fell through

Vox – The fatal flaw in Obama’s plan to close Guantanamo Bay