Remarks by Sandra Kaiser
Minister-Counselor for Public Affairs, American Embassy London
Royal United Services Institute, London
As prepared for delivery
The special relationship is one of those evergreen topics that falls dormant, only to spring up again. Wherever you go back in our shared history, it seems, the special relationship has been declared dead and buried – only to resurface, very much alive and well.
Remember Secretary of State Dean Acheson. He declared the UK’s desire to forge a special role with the U.S. to be “about played out.” President Kennedy and Prime Minister MacMillan celebrated one of the closest connections ever between our governments.
Remember Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, unhappy with our invasion of Grenada and our measured response to the Falklands crisis. Yet she and President Reagan became very close.
Remember President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister John Major. There were stories that Tory spin doctors had ferreted out embarrassing stories about the former President’s behavior while at Oxford. Yet Clinton and Major forged an enduring, strategically solid partnership.
As someone who has served at the U.S. Embassy for the last two years, I guess the latest chapter of the special relationship saga is the one I know best. Last year, some of my good friends in the British media parsed President Obama’s autobiography, and decided on the basis of his grandfather’s bad treatment at the hands of Kenyan colonials, that the President does not value the special relationship. The fact that he returned the loan of a Winston Churchill bust was cited as proof positive. Even though the Churchill made way for an Abraham Lincoln, that didn’t seem to matter.
There’s a small irony here in that much of Abraham Lincoln’s inspiration during the American Civil War heroes was the great British abolistionist William Wilberforce. The fact that the Churchill bust has become such a reference point for so many people underscores the emotional quotient that still exists within the “special relationship.”
As part of this latest chapter, the President called Prime Minister Cameron within a few minutes of the Prime Minister’s arrival at Downing Street, congratulating him on his election, saying he was looking forward to meeting at the G8/G20 meeting in Canada next month, and inviting the PM and his wife Samantha to the White House this summer.
As the President said, “the United States has no closer friend and ally than the United Kingdom. I reiterate my deep and personal commitment to the special relationship between our two countries – a bond that has endured for generations and across party lines, and that is essential to the security and prosperity of our two countries, and the world.”
In America, we are profoundly aware that we need British help if we are to be successful in fighting climate change, to keep the global economy stable and growing, and to counter Iran. In my view, those who tot off how many times politicians in London and Washington say – or don’t say – “special relationship” each week are misreading one of the most successful partnerships in world history. We may disagree; in fact, we often do. But when we consider the nations around the world, there is no one whose values we share more.
There are several speakers here today who rightly focused on the important security and intelligence aspects of the special relationship. But there are other parts that may in fact be even deeper and longer lasting. In fact, there’s a huge current that flows both ways, of ideas, money, people, that is bigger than anyone knows. I’ve spent the last two years at the Embassy trying to get my arms around it, but it just gets bigger all the time. This is the foundation of trust upon which our governments have a basis to build. Let me describe.
You can’t go to a UK university campus without hearing an American accent somewhere. Some 34,000 Americans come here every year to study, and about 9,000 Brits head the other way. President Obama’s latest nominee for the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan, studied at Oxford. New Deputy PM Nick Clegg spent a year at the University of Minnesota, which he then followed up with an internship at “The Nation,” working under Christopher Hitchens. Twelve out of 28 new members of the British cabinet are alumni of U.S. exchange programs. RUSI, Chatham House, Ditchley, are all 24-carat pieces of the amazing gold links of the special relationship.
The closer you look, the more those links extend. Some 16,000 British kids head to the States every summer to work as camp counselors. They line up for their visas under my office window in Grosvenor Square every spring. The U.S. National Science Foundation sponsors more scientific research projects in the UK than in any other country, right now about 150 projects. There are some 27,000 UK/U.S. Fulbright scholars. There’s the Fulbright teacher exchange program, which we run with the British Council, where American and British teachers swap classrooms and lives for a year. There are at least 11,000 alumni of that program in both countries.
There are Marshall Fellows, a terrific program that brings Americans here to study. Alumni of that program include Tom Friedman and our current State Department Undersecretary for Political Affairs, Bill Burns. There are Rhodes scholars, Nottingham Roosevelt scholars, Gates Foundation scholars.
There are institutions such as the American Museum in Bath, and Sulgrave Manor, George Washington’s ancestral home in Oxfordshire. This week we have a group called the Muhammad Ali Scholars, from the University of Louisville, Kentucky, talking to British young people about furthering Muhammad Ali’s vision of social justice and violence prevention. There’s even an organization that recognizes outstanding contributions to the great state of Kentucky, called the Kentucky Colonels. There’s a chapter right here in the UK.
In the arts, we’re working with Kevin Spacey and The Old Vic Theatre’s Bridge Project, in which the Old Vic and the Brooklyn Academy of Music co-produce two plays per year with young American and British actors, perform them in both countries, and then take them around the world. This summer, Jazz at Lincoln Center and Wynton Marsalis will hold a residency at the Barbican. As part of that, Wynton Marsalis and his American musicians will form an East London Jazz Ensemble with young jazz artists from the Guildhall School. I’m just scratching the surface here, but you get the idea.
We are leading investors in each other’s economies. American investment in UK totaled $420.9 billion in 2008, and British investment in U.S.A. was $454.1 billion, making the UK the largest single investor in the United States. Our production of books, movies, television dominates the world. The Harry Potter films alone, a classic UK/Hollywood collaboration, have earned 5.4 billion dollars worldwide. The most popular TV program in the world right now is “House,” with Hugh Laurie. It, too, is generating vast sums of money for its actors and creators.
I love polls. I was interested in the results of this RUSI poll on the special relationship, released on the eve of this conference. Sixty-two percent think the U.S. is the UK’s most important ally. Yet sixty-two percent also think the U.S. ignores British interests. Fifty-four percent think the U.S. and UK leaders need a close personal friendship, but 85 percent think the UK has no influence on the U.S.
Yes, there are challenges to address – an inevitability in any close relationship. But the bottom line is the poll shows most Brits think the U.S. is an important ally, a view we share. Of course I disagree with the idea that we ignore British interests. You have no idea how many calls and emails go back and forth between Whitehall and Washington every day. And those long phone calls do indeed take place between our leaders. They’re not on a schedule. They are more private. But they are deep and wide-ranging.
With a new prime minister, we have an opportunity to refresh the way we talk about our relationship with the UK. In the words of President Obama, “the relationship between our two countries is more than just an alliance of interests; it’s a kinship of ideals and it must be constantly renewed.”
So, as President Obama would say, let us get to work on our common agenda. Let us not just talk, but in our actions together, constantly write – and rewrite – the book of our evolving relationship. And in doing so, let’s remember Benjamin Franklin. He spent seven years of his life at a house just around the corner here, on Craven Street, near Charing Cross. You can stop by and see it. Franklin spent his time there absorbing English philosophy and ideas, which he later used in blazing the new path of the United States. His admonition to us: “Well done is better than well said.”