"There has long been a special relationship within the special relationship between Britain and America. This is the close friendship of Britain's conservative party with America's Republican party. It was particularly strong when Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were in office, and it remained so with their successors, John Major and George H.W. Bush, especially during the first Gulf War. (The two still holiday together.)
This relationship has fallen into disrepair in recent years. Tony Blair became the special friend of America. He understood that the world changed on 9/11, and the White House didn't just get close to Blair during his premiership but also chose to cold shoulder the conservative opposition at the same time. The previous Conservative leader, Michael Howard, was told that he wouldn't be welcome at the White House. Karl Rove took exception to the ways in which Howard's Tories were making the Iraq war difficult for Tony Blair.
David Cameron, the current Tory leader, refused to say whether he preferred George W. Bush over John Kerry at the last presidential election. He also used the fifth anniversary of 9/11 to signal disappointment at some aspects of American foreign policy. Just a month ago he publicly eschewed "liberal interventionism" in favor of something he called "liberal conservatism." "Liberal" in that foreign policy should want to see democracy and civil rights extended but "conservative" because there needs to be much more skepticism about our abilities to transform complex cultures.
But these difficulties are finally coming to an end. David Cameron visited Washington last week and had a 30-minute meeting with President Bush. During his visit, he told the invited audience that "the cause of peace and progress is best served by an America that is engaged in the world." "The values we hold dear," he continued, "are best defended when Britain and the United States, and the United States and Europe, stand together."
Cameron's was the first visit by a Tory leader to America's capital city for six years. That's the longest absence since World War II. Those Americans who want long-term partners should realize the importance of the conservative party. It's not just because it is increasingly likely to form Britain's next government, but because the conservatives are the natural allies of an outward-looking America, and particularly of the GOP's worldview.
Republicans shouldn't repeat the mistake they made with Blair by only looking at Cameron and ignoring the party that he leads. Blair's Labour party never shared its leader's commitment to the war on terror, and that commitment was thus seriously undermined. It was Gordon Brown who controlled the purse strings when Blair was prime minister, and it was Brown who ensured that Britain went to war on a peacetime budget. Without the votes of Tory MPs, then led by Iain Duncan Smith, Blair would probably have never secured parliamentary approval of the Iraq war. Blair's time in 10 Downing Street was shortened because of the Iraq war and his party's hostility to him because of it.
The largest group within the conservative parliamentary party is the Friends of Israel Group. By two-to-one, rank-and-file Tory party members reject the idea that the United Nations should have any veto on British military involvement in the world. And in another illustration of a stark difference with grassroots Labour party members, a clear majority of Conservatives support the principle of preemption. In ten years of Labour governments, the armed forces have been chronically underfunded, and Tory MPs support--by a margin of ten to one--a larger military. Liam Fox, Michael Gove, and George Osborne--three of David Cameron's most senior shadow cabinet ministers--are hawks. The shadow foreign secretary, William Hague, is a committed Atlanticist.
Conservative foreign policy is far from perfect but "liberal conservatism" should be seen as a work in progress. David Cameron is a young leader, and he's largely focused on domestic issues; he's not unlike the George W. Bush of 2000. Cameron's promising a government that addresses Britain's social problems, and he's emphasizing marriage, social entrepreneurs, and a supply-side revolution in education to fight poverty.
American Republicans could also be a little more understanding of the political pressures facing David Cameron. The poor execution of the Iraq war has made it very unpopular in Britain. From the Daily Mail on the right to the all-powerful BBC, the media has inflamed popular opposition to the war, which has mushroomed into significant anti-Americanism. Pro-American Britons mouth their support, but there has been no serious attempt by the U.S. embassy or Washington officials to combat the rampant anti-Americanism. David Cameron most certainly isn't anti-American. He has opened up double digit opinion poll leads over Gordon Brown's free-falling government. Like him or not, he's likely to be a fixture on the international scene for years to come."