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Home > Special Topics > Europe Report Last Updated: 15:16 03/09/2007
Europe Report #103: September 21, 2004

Anglo-American Ties Difficult but Essential

Nicholas Soames (British Shadow Defense Minister) and J. Sean Curtin (GLOCOM, Fellow and Asia Times)

Nicholas Soames, British Shadow Defense Minister

Nicholas Soames has been a Conservative member of the British parliament for 21 years during which time he has held a number of important posts, both in and out of government. He is currently the Shadow Defense Minister and a member of the Shadow Cabinet. He is the grandson of the former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the country's famous wartime leader.

Sean Curtin: In the global war on terrorism unity is essential. However, under the Bush administration we have witnessed the emergence of a huge wave of anti-Americanism. Recently, this impression has been reinforced by a series of international opinion polls which indicate that the populations of most countries do not support the Bush administration. Apparently, only in Poland, Nigeria and the Philippines do a majority of the population support President Bush. I wonder, what steps you think President Bush should take to restore a sense of international unity?

Nicholas Soames: The idea that the nations lining up behind America are just Nigeria and the Philippines is quite honestly too foolish to be taken seriously. Clearly, the American administration, and dealing with them, is pretty hard pounding. It has always been hard pounding. Churchill had a very very hard time with [President] Roosevelt and won his argument with force of character, personality and because the issues were right. Margaret Thatcher was not told that a British Commonwealth country, of which the queen is head, had been invaded by the Americans until President Regan rung her up half-an-hour after it had happened and told her it had happened. She was mightily displeased. These are difficult relationships to run and the most important thing that Britain can do to retain its influence is to be in my view a candid and reliable friend. It doesn't always work. It's not a comfortable experience. But I would rather we had it than above all almost anything else to do with our own security. It is something we have to work on and work on by maintaining all the contacts we possibly can.

At the same time, it is absolutely ridiculous to pretend that Britain's only interest is in friendship with America. Britain has interests and alliances all over the world. We have very important and significant relationships with other European countries that we need to fortify, sustain and develop.

Actually, the idea of Britain as being a sort of interlocutor between America and Europe, I believe it is questionable. I think the Americans are perfectly aware of who they want to talk to in any particular European country. The idea that the British Prime Minister stands as a sort of bridge between the Americans and whoever they want to talk to is frankly ridiculous. We do have a role in being equally comfortable with both.

Finally, this [Bush] administration. I remember in the first debate [in the British parliament] on going to Iraq. I said in the debate, which I was very lucky to be called on, and I made the point that anyone could kick the door [of Saddam Hussein] down and kick it down in probably under ten days. But what you do when you get into the room is an altogether different kettle of fish. I think America has very badly handled [this], and underestimated the difficulties it would find. It has committed some huge basic mistakes and frankly didn't pay enough attention to us [the British] when we tried to tell them. So, we can all agree on these things, but it doesn't mean to say that they are a bad lot.

Sean Curtin: I was not saying that.

Nicholas Soames: Those who take pleasure in seeing America with its difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan are very very foolish indeed. What we have to do is make sure that we are in a position where what we say and do [influences them] with all our vast experience which we seem to be ashamed of. Britain's experience in empire, for example the most accurate intelligence America got for dealing with the tribes in southern Iraq was a naval intelligence signals handbook written for the British navy in 1920. Not much has changed and we wrote most of it. So, I think we should be more robust, less ashamed of our imperial past and imperial experience, and put it to the good use of sustaining the world and its freedoms.

Sean Curtin: Your own leader, Michael Howard [of the Conservative Party], is apparently now a persona non grata in Washington. Should Michael Howard be invited to Washington?

Nicholas Soames: Let's have a grown up answer to the question. Michael Howard is probably the most transatlantist politician alive in Britain today. The founder of the Transatlantic Forum, which is by far one of the most influential Anglo-American establishments. It was set up precisely because of his anxiety that the world was beginning to lose track of where it was going. So, I think criticism of Michael is a non-starter.

Sean Curtin: I was not trying to criticize him.

Nicholas Soames: Secondly, President Bush never said any such thing about Michael Howard. I think that in the frenetic world in which we all live in, casual throw-away remarks are translated into facts. Michael Howard has many very strong contacts with the American administration. In fact, I had breakfast with him not three months ago with about a quarter of the American administration present. [Being barred from seeing President Bush] I mean, it's just nonsense. I think the appearance of a large number of Conservatives members of parliament at the Republican Convention which is frankly something most sensible people would pay serious money not to go to proves how silly this idea is.

The above comments were made at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London on 13 September 2004

Profile: Nicholas Soames

Nicholas Soames is Shadow Secretary of State for Defense and a Member of the Shadow Cabinet. His Ministerial career included serving as Parliamentary Secretary and Minister of Food at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food from 1992-1994 and as Minister of State for the Armed Forces from 1994-1997.

He has been a Member of Parliament for 21 years and has represented Mid Sussex since 1997 and he previously served as MP for Crawley.

He was born in 1948 and was educated at St. Aubyns, Sussex and Eton College. He is the son of The Late Lord Soames and grandson of Sir Winston Churchill, Britain's famous wartime leader. He is married with two sons and a daughter and lives in Sussex.

After leaving school he was commissioned into the 11th Hussars and served in Germany and the United Kingdom. He was subsequently Equerry to HRH The Prince of Wales KG.

Reference Articles

World Opinion Poll Shows Little Support For Bush Re-Election
Barry Newhouse, Associated Press, 8 September 2004
A new opinion poll in 35 countries indicates a majority of those polled would prefer to see Democratic challenger John Kerry elected over incumbent President George Bush. The public opinion poll was conducted this summer in 35 countries. In 30 of them, the majority of those surveyed said they would prefer to see John Kerry win the presidential election. President Bush was just slightly favored over Mr. Kerry in Nigeria and Kenya, but he was supported by a majority of those surveyed in the Philippines. The poll indicated a split opinion in both India and Thailand.

If the world could vote, it's Kerry in a landslide
Jim Lobe, Asia Times, 9 September 2004

If the people of the rest of the world could vote in November's US elections, Democratic Senator John Kerry would beat President George W Bush in a landslide. That is the finding of a poll conducted by GlobeScan Incorporated and its affiliates during July and August of nearly 35,000 people in 35 countries in all regions of the world.

Howard tells Bush: I don't care if you won't see me
Melissa Kite, The telegraph, 29 August 2004
Michael Howard issued a blistering rebuff to George W Bush yesterday after the President barred the Tory leader from the White House as punishment for his attacks on Tony Blair over the Iraq War. In a furious phone call earlier this year, Karl Rove, Mr Bush's closest adviser, told Mr Howard's aides: "You can forget about meeting the President. Don't bother coming. You are not meeting him."

Howard Hits Out at Bush Administration
Gavin Cordon, The Scotsman, 28 August 2004
Tory leader Michael Howard today hit out at White House aides after he was reportedly warned that he would never meet President George Bush.

Howard fury over White House ban
Francis Elliott and Rupert Cornwell, The Independent, 29 August 2004
Michael Howard last night accused George Bush of seeking to protect Tony Blair in an extraordinary row sparked by news that the Tory leader has been banned from the White House.

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