The not-so-secret weapon in the special relationship

A dive into history reveals multiple breaches of protocol by nervous American leaders, none more embarrassing than Jimmy Carter kissing the Queen’s mother on the lips. It reveals Ronald Reagan preparing for a major stint across Europe in 1983 preparing, yes, for high-stakes diplomacy, but also wondering if he had the right gear to go horseback riding with. the Queen. It is about a trip to America in 1951 in which Harry Truman remarked when meeting the heir to the throne: “When I was a little boy I read about a fairy princess – and there she is.” Then-Prime Minister Harold Macmillan would describe his next trip to the United States, in 1957, as so successful that it “buried George III for good and for all”.

What sets the Queen apart in this way? It wasn’t the pageantry, the lavish banquets, or his unequaled fame. Part of the explanation lies in the fact that the presidents not only encountered the embodiment of America’s closest ally and its past, but also, later in his reign, someone who knew his predecessors better than them or never would, and therefore could see them. in a correct historical scale.

His ability to charm and even strike up friendships with American presidents was a not-so-secret weapon that helped make — and keep — the “special relationship” special. President Joe Biden was clear on this political significance in his tribute, describing the Queen as a “stateswoman of unparalleled dignity and steadfastness who has deepened the fundamental alliance between the United Kingdom and the States -United”.

It helped that the woman who was closely followed and supported by American Anglophiles seemed to have been something of an Americanophile. Just as the special relationship goes beyond the ties between two heads of state or heads of government, the Queen’s connection to America goes beyond her leaders. Like many Britons of her generation – and like the modern Britain she ruled over – the Second World War was a formative experience in which America’s contribution was decisive and unforgettable. On a more personal note, she only took a handful of vacations abroad during her reign, but five of them were in America, often – and perhaps a little unlikely – in the land of the Kentucky horse.

The great-great-great-great-granddaughter of the king who lost America acknowledged an additional debt to the former British colony beyond the wartime alliance. In 1973, the British government was probed at the idea of ​​Elizabeth II attending celebrations three years later to mark America’s bicentenary. One of the Prime Minister’s advisers wrote a pretentious note to Buckingham Palace: “One would wonder if it was right for the Queen to be associated with the celebration of a rebellion of the British Crown.” The Queen would continue to make the trip, although she arrived on July 6, because, as an embassy official told the New York Times, “The 4th of July really pushed. Forgiveness can only go so far.

In a speech marking the occasion, the Queen herself would be more gracious. “It seems to me that Independence Day should be celebrated as much in Britain as it is in America,” she told a crowd in Philadelphia. “Not in rejoicing at the separation of the American colonies from the British Crown, but in sincere gratitude to the Founding Fathers of this great Republic for teaching Britain a very valuable lesson…We have learned to respect the the right of others to govern themselves.. Without that great act in the cause of liberty, performed at Independence Hall two hundred years ago, we could never have transformed an empire into a commonwealth.

Given this fondness for America, the Queen’s death not only means that Britain has lost a diplomatic asset and soft power, but also the guardian angel of the special relationship. Will his son, King Charles III, be able to fill this void?

For British officials keen for him to step into his mother’s diplomatic role, Charles poses a number of problems. The first is that, through no fault of his own, he simply cannot provide the semi-mystical connection to the past that his mother has come to represent for the world. Another, which threatens to make things particularly difficult in the United States, is that Charles is a far more political figure than his mother. While she has stuck relentlessly to the narrowly defined role of constitutional monarch – someone above the fray who only steps in when strictly necessary – he has been much more active in society during his long tenure. waiting for the throne. The prince’s political activity has focused on climate change and the environment, issues hardly controversial on this side of the pond, though more controversial in the United States. As a prince, Charles has insisted that the rules are different for monarchs and heirs to the throne, promising to engage in politics much less often once he becomes king. But nonetheless it’s easy to see how he could become a more politicized figure than his mother here in America.

If you think a country’s position and influence in the world is determined by more than its wealth or military might, it’s hard not to see Queen Elizabeth II’s death as anything other than a grave diplomatic loss for the United Kingdom. The departure of the last living incarnation of a kind of easily understandable British greatness on the world stage – and in America – will only add to the concern about Britain’s place in the world and its relations. with his closest ally. But this one-sided anxiety has been a feature of the special relationship since the term was coined by Winston Churchill in a 1946 speech in Fulton, Missouri.

For all the ways the Queen has helped make this special relationship what it is, her connection to America is also a reminder that the ties between the UK and the US cannot be reduced to one or two. people. They represent something much deeper, rooted in history, values, culture, trade and defence. Elizabeth II knew it. And while her American counterparts doubted it when they took the oath, they usually understood the meaning once they had tea with the Queen.


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