Theresa May comes to Washington
JOHN LLOYD*British Prime Minister Theresa May goes to Washington this week. As the Wall Street Journal notes, the two leaders hold diametrically opposed views on globalization and trade, the president seeking economic self-sufficiency for his country, and the prime minister wishing to project the United Kingdom around the world.
It seems, then, that not so much a valued ally as a beggar is coming to Washington – a leader isolated in Europe, seeking a deal from another who has written the continent off. But let’s assume that May, at least, has thought this through and is prepared to deploy her strengths. What would they be?
The first and best would be NATO. The president has called it “obsolete,” and has raised fears that he may pull out of it.
Britain was the progenitor of NATO.
Its armed forces are configured with NATO membership as their guide. Its strategy, war games and training are within the context of NATO. The same is largely true of the other European states, including some – like the Scandinavian countries – that have very small militaries. If NATO collapses, they will be faced with creating a European Defense Force.
May could use this to her advantage. Britain could claim the position of a bridge between the EU and the United States, persuading Trump that his country’s security and that of the world is better with than without NATO.
The proposal could be further enhanced by the appointment of former Prime Minister David Cameron as NATO secretary-general, a possibility already mooted. Cameron is not liked in the EU, for holding a referendum which has plunged the member states into crisis. But if he is the link which binds the Western alliance together, he might be acceptable.
Her other large card is Britain’s friendship. Much mocked by those who forecast, or wish, her failure, Trump should not dismiss it. May is a reluctant Brexiteer – she voted Remain, though with no obvious enthusiasm – but the referendum has made her a determined one: no other ally takes that position, which puts her on Trump’s side. Yet as it would be folly to destroy NATO, so it would be foolish to will the EU’s collapse, for both trade and security reasons. Britain has every good reason to bring the White House round to at least a grudging recognition of the benefits of a continued alliance: if Trump really does want to see May as “his Maggie,” he might accept the advice from her which he would scorn from any other European leader.
It is clear that Trump wishes to be amiable: the man nominated as ambassador to the U.K., Professor Ted Malloch, has said the UK will get a trade deal within 12 months. In a BBC interview this week, he said the negotiations would take no more than three months.
Britain has ensured, by the referendum vote, that it has no choice but to get closer to a United States whose chief executive seems to wish to tell the rest of the world to get lost. Yet the process of turning a campaign’s worth of tweets into policy is, to say it at its kindest, clearly fluid. That may give the prime minister her opening.
With the returned bust of Churchill at her back, May is about the only world leader whom the president might accept as a frank friend and whose advice he might follow – and for whom he has already constructed a little play, Maggie to his Ronnie. It is a big role for the industrious daughter of a vicarage: but if she can succeed in modifying America First with Britain Second, she will do herself, Europe and the United States a service.
*This abridged article is from Reuters.