British government's deal involving Lockerbie bomber shatters 'Special Relationship' with U.S.
by Michael Rubin
On Aug. 20, Scottish authorities freed Libyan intelligence officer Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the only man convicted in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie.
Even though he was sentenced to life in prison, he served just over 11 days for each of the 270 men, women and children killed on the ill-fated airliner, or in the village below.
Two weeks later, the political storm is worsening.
Documents show that what the British government said was a compassionate release for a cancer-stricken man had more to do with British commercial interests.
The diplomatic fallout will be even greater.
Not only did Libyan celebrations destroy the goodwill which Prime Minister Gordon Brown hoped would jump-start Anglo-Libyan relations, but his clumsy and transparent attempt to substitute an oil contract for justice has shredded the seven-decade U.S.-U.K. Special Relationship beyond repair.
The Special Relationship developed in the face of tyranny - first Nazi, then Soviet - which led Americans and Brits alike to treasure liberty and freedom and no longer take democracy for granted.
U.S. and Britain's interests are never identical, but petty politics took a backseat to principle and broader strategic interests.
Debate in Washington about how to respond to Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait ended when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher telephoned George H.W. Bush to tell him that it was no time "to go wobbly."
Sacrificing allies for oil did not cross either leader's mind. In the wake of 9/11, George W. Bush declared to a Joint Session of Congress, "America has no truer friend than Great Britain."
Alas, today it is clear that Bush was wrong.
The Special Relationship was a compact not between countries, but between generations. As the "Greatest Generation," which liberated Europe retired and began to die, appreciation for Anglo-American solidarity wore away.
The trust upon which the relationship was grounded eroded as British officials - former Labor Minister Clare Short, for example - exposed sensitive espionage operations for political gain.
Partnerships take investment. Because public pacifism undercuts British support for its own military, Washington can no longer count on London to pull its own weight.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's campaign video, replete with captured British soldiers waving the Iranian flag, resonates. Whatever spin British politicians put on their military's "softly-softly" approach in southern Iraq, it was a failure.
Accommodating extremists for short-term gain backfires. It is not the stuff upon which serious alliances are built. As fighting toughens, the Pentagon worries about Britain's commitment in Afghanistan.
Washington is not blameless. President Obama's gifts to British officials - DVD collections and iPods loaded with his speeches - lacked tact. His return of a bust of Winston Churchill, loaned to the White House after 9/11, was an unnecessary slap.
The Anglo-American alliance was always made of tough enough stuff to withstand errors of etiquette. Not even the most committed Anglophile, however, can save the alliance when British politicians are willing to subordinate principle to the highest bidder.