Did you hear that the President Elect is already on rocky ground with the Brits, potentially straining ties with one of our closest allies? That’s the impression you might get from some of the headlines coming out this weekend. The Hill picked up the story and ran with the description, UK prime minister: Trump’s comments about groping women ‘unacceptable.’
Oh, dear. That sounds pretty bad. The new PM is a woman after all, so of course she’s probably offended by Trump’s unacceptable behavior. We’d better see what this is all about.
British Prime Minister Theresa May on Sunday criticized President-elect Donald Trump or the lewd comments he was heard making about women in a 2005 tape that surfaced last year.
“I think that’s unacceptable,” May said in an interview with Sky News.
If all you bothered to read was the title and the lead paragraphs you’d be left with the impression that the “special relationship” was on the rocks and it’s all Trump’s fault. But is that the case? Digging a bit deeper you find out that the new Prime Minister immediately tempered her remarks and pretty much gave the President Elect a pass.
“But in fact Donald Trump himself has said that and has apologized for it.”
Still, May said the relationship between the U.K. and the U.S. is about something much bigger than just the relationship between the leaders of both countries.
“That’s important, but actually we have a long-standing special relationship with the United States,” she said.
There is, no doubt, a strong desire among the President Elect’s detractors to paint our foreign relations landscape in as negative a fashion as possible, but let’s keep a couple of things in mind. First of all, this wasn’t something that the Prime Minister suddenly felt moved to step out and comment on this week. (The story is months old already and she’s had plenty of time for that.) A reporter asked her about it, no doubt looking to stir up some excitement during a dry news cycle.
But even if May actually was upset about this, do you really think she’s going to start steering away from Trump before he’s even in office? Unlikely. First of all, she was the pro-Brexit choice and Trump was seen as far more friendly to the new political alignment in Great Britain than either Obama or Clinton. Regardless of their personal persuasions, Trump and May are much closer to being kissing cousins in terms of European policy. But we can pull the lens back considerably further and remind ourselves of precisely how much more special the special relationship is these days.
Brexit had a number of long term effects on the European power structure. By abandoning ship, the Brits are standing apart from the rest of the continent far more so than in the past. (And their refusal to take on the Euro didn’t help much to begin with.) We are Great Britain’s number one ally in the world, and certainly both the richest and most powerful one. In that regard, they are much more like Israel in the modern era. Even if you have few other friends, the United States remains a very good partner to do business with. And the positioning of those two countries could give us a hint of what’s in store over the next couple of years.
For just one of the most recent examples, look at the fallout from the flap over that disastrous U.N. resolution on Israeli settlements. On the one hand, Netanyahu was ticked off at the British government for allegedly playing a key role in getting the resolution pushed through. But within a matter of days, Theresa May was scolding John Kerry over his speech and criticizing him for focusing so much on the settlements. Is that a case of mixed messages or was May trying to lay the groundwork for a better relationship with Trump already? Far more likely the latter.
That question about ‘groping women’ was an obvious stunt born from the press rather than 10 Downing Street. If anything, I’d expect relations between London and Washington to be on an upswing in the coming months rather than being more strained.