British Prime Minister Theresa May, who has not had a good week, met Friday with American President Donald Trump with a single objective: to resurrect the “special relationship” that over the past 100 years combined the fates of Britain and the United States. This time they’re building a neo-conservative bilateral project formally opposed to the so-called “neo-Labour” world of the 1990s Clinton-Blair era.
It was exactly a century ago, in fact, when the Wilson administration was preparing for the entry into the First World War under the pretext to “make the world safe for democracy.” The declaration of war came April 6, 1917. The troops of General Pershing saved the Allies but failed in creating a stable and peaceful international order. The Treaty of Versailles planted the seeds of the Second World War.
Again the United States intervened and, again, it was belated. The conflict broke out in 1939, but, despite his close personal ties to Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt sent troops only at the end of 1941, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor forced his hand.
The victory of 1945 definitively consecrated America’s role as a superpower, replacing the British, who won but were exhausted by the human and material losses.
Now, taking advantage of Britain’s exit from the European Union, May would recreate with Trump what in more recent times was the link between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. But it will take more than a summit and a photo op to return to the golden ‘80s.
First of all, Reagan recognized Thatcher as a politician who had come to power before him, winning elections in 1979, and as an intellectual mentor. Although Reagan shared with her neoconservative ideas on free trade and on the need for a hard-nosed confrontation with the Soviet Union, Thatcher was politically savvier and more prepared. (She had been a deputy since 1959, when Reagan was still doing TV ads for General Electric refrigerators.)
It was this relationship of admiration that allowed Thatcher to lead Reagan to accept Gorbachev as a privileged partner in the negotiations on nuclear disarmament which culminated in the signing of the treaty for the elimination of medium-range missiles, in 1987, and the launch of negotiations for the reduction of all other nuclear weapons under the Start I Treaty.
This strong ideological solidarity, combined with a deep personal trust rarely found among leaders of different countries, seems absent in the relationship between Trump and May, at least for now. May is a traditional politician, a pure product of the English establishment: Oxford graduate, spent time at the Bank of England, Member of Parliament since 1997.
Trump is a billionaire narcissist and a liar, who has never held any political office and is only good at one thing: dominating the evening news with provocative statements.
Character traits could even be secondary if there was a strong ideological affinity, but this does not seem to be the case, particularly as regards relations with Russia.
May is not only a supporter of NATO but certainly remembers when, in 2006, the secret service of the Kremlin murdered dissident Alexander Litvinenko in London in an operation that an investigation attributed to an order by Vladimir Putin. In recent years, relations between London and Moscow have been very bad, far from the friendly ones that Trump wants to re-establish with Russia.
Even with regard to economic policy, it’s difficult to see a mutual interest: Trump won his campaign invoking protectionism and has since continued to threaten to impose customs duties against entire countries (Mexico) or individual companies (which he does not have the power to do, but the important thing is the message to his supporters). May needs an ally in the difficult negotiations with the European Union, but Trump doesn’t have a powerful reason to help her out.
Above all, Trump seems determined to sow chaos in the global economic system. After the withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, his initiatives against Mexico seriously threaten to smash even NAFTA.
If you add to this the uncertainty in relations with China and the possibility of bilateral trade wars, it seems evident that the current optimism of the U.S. financial markets is likely to be short-lived. Wall Street, which is for now optimistic about the possibility of having a “normal” Republican president who would cut taxes and kill regulations for the financial sector, will very soon change its opinion.
The crack could arrive in a few weeks or a few months, but it will come. And it will not be May who persuades the White House bully to think before he tweets.