About 20 years ago, Tony Blair, then British Prime Minister, promised his American counterpart George W Bush: “I will be with you anyway.” Facts have proved that this sentiment was true during the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, and remained so during the hasty and chaotic retreat of the past few days.
However, the UK has made it clear, both publicly and privately, that it does not agree with President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw 2,500 American soldiers by the end of August. General Sir Nick Carter, Chief of the British Defence Staff, Accepted Just two days after Biden announced the news in April, this was “not the decision we hoped for.”
The disagreement on the Afghanistan issue exposed the first major disagreement in Anglo-American relations since Biden took office in January.His election is Welcome in Whitehall After the uncertainty of the Trump administration, Downing Street breathed a sigh of relief. Regarding NATO, climate change and the coronavirus pandemic, Prime Minister Boris Johnson felt he had found an ally.
In turn, the Biden administration relied on the United Kingdom to take joint actions on sanctions and human rights issues, and in dealing with foreign policy challenges such as Belarus or Myanmar, it found that London was the main supporter.
But Biden’s Televised speech On Monday, he firmly supported the decision to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan, shocking many people in Whitehall. A senior official involved in British foreign policy criticized “indomitable harshness” and “lack of humility towards humanitarian disasters.” A senior Conservative party called Biden’s speech “completely unusual” and added that “it is not the first in the United States, but the United States alone.”
Some British diplomats are also worried that the Biden administration will see France as its main European partner. “[Antony] flash [US secretary of state] He has been interviewed by major French television twice and conducted zero interviews with British news media. This shows where his priorities are,” a member of Parliament said.
On Wednesday, the American president also received direct criticism from members of the House of Commons, a clear parliamentary condemnation of Britain’s closest ally. Some members of Congress called his criticism of the Afghan army “shameful”, while former Cabinet Secretary Sir John Redwood accused Biden of unilaterally withdrawing, “without reaching agreement and negotiating plans with the Afghan government or NATO allies.”
Before Biden decided to end what he called the “eternal war” in April, Johnson and British diplomats tried to persuade the United States to change course. But once they discovered that this was futile, they turned their attention to establishing alternative military forces to partially fill the void left by the US military.
The ministers considered convening an alliance of NATO allies to remain in office after the American personnel left. According to people familiar with the government’s plans, there were also discussions about maintaining the presence of a British ambassador in Kabul or the city’s airport for a longer period of time.
British Defense Minister Ben Wallace told the Financial Times that he, along with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, had tried to engage in dialogue with “some key countries” that remained in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of US troops. “Although some [being] Yes, it is their parliament that hinders the numbers,” he said.
When asked by reporters this week, Stoltenberg denied understanding of any discussions about the continued military presence, but confirmed that no European country or Canada is ultimately prepared to replace the military support provided by the United States. He said that the United States “bears the brunt of the burden during the Afghanistan operation” .
Experts in contact with the Biden administration have discovered another gap in the relationship between the two countries on the issue of Afghanistan: Washington believes that Britain is more sympathetic to Pakistan’s views on the Taliban than Biden, and Biden has not yet called his Pakistani counterparts.
Although the events of last week exposed all the pressure — as well as long-term concerns about the impact of the new US-UK trade deal and the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland — other British diplomats insisted that this special relationship is not in the long run. Will be affected.
They privately pointed out that the first call received by the United Kingdom after Biden was elected president was also the first call after the fall of Kabul. Biden also personally invested time in the relationship. He visited the UK before G7 in June — part of his first overseas trip since he became president — and met with the Queen.
At the same time, in Washington, State Department officials tried to downplay comments about the rift.
“Well, we certainly have an extraordinary partner in the British government,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Wednesday, adding that the United States discussed withdrawal with NATO allies at a meeting in Brussels at the end of March. . “We work closely with our British allies in this regard.”
Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the Special Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Commons, said that the first task of the Johnson administration is to ensure that “the current tendency of the United States towards isolationism will not get worse.” He added: “This bond is much deeper than anyone in the White House or Downing Street.”
Former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Defense Sir Malcolm Rifkind also believes that the split will not have a “fundamentally destructive effect” on transatlantic relations. “The United States, especially the United States under the leadership of President Biden, fully understands that even as the world’s largest superpower, it needs allies when it pursues its foreign policy on different issues and areas in different parts of the world. If it weren’t for Britain as them. The closest ally, the question must be, who?”
But Britain’s unwillingness to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan has raised questions about its status abroad, especially after Brexit and Johnson’s “Global Britain” agenda. Some expressed concern that when Britain deployed Queen Elizabeth aircraft carriers to Asia in an attempt to promote Britain’s strength as an ally, withdrawing troops would damage Britain’s credibility overseas.
“What is the cost of Britain’s promises and promises to people at risk? Together with the United States, I worry that it is almost worthless,” said General David Richards, the former commander-in-chief of the British armed forces. “The impact of this tragedy on Britain’s influence and reputation and its ability to do things globally will last a long time.”