New British Prime Minister Gordon Brown invoked the memory of Winston Churchill's description of the 'joint inheritance of liberty' to explain the shared values that bind US and UK interests, even as an adviser worked behind the scenes to assess the potential fallout of announcing a withdrawal of British forces from Iraq.
"The strength of this relationship," Brown said Monday, "is not just built on the shared problems that we have to deal with together." Attempting to dispel American anxiety that the new British leader might use his leadership to distance the UK from US interests, Brown used his first appearance with the American president to underscore the two nations' belief in opportunity for and dignity of the individual.
"I do see this relationship strengthening in the years to come, because it is the values that we believe in that I think will have the most impact as we try to solve the problems that we face right across the world," Brown said.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair's "special relationship" with Bush became the focus of much derision by the British public and media, which partly explains the rhetorical attempt to re-brand it as the "joint inheritance."
The most pressing problem for American interests concerns continuing the presence of British troops in southern Iraq. Brown said in his speech that the British military has moved three of four Iraqi provinces from combat to overwatch, with the fourth province under UK leadership to be handed over to Iraqi control following the green light from commanders on the ground.
The transfer of control has enabled the British military to withdraw 1,500 troops over recent months, leaving approximately 5,500 still in Iraq. Brown did not publicly discuss any plans he might be looking at to begin the staged withdrawal of remaining British troops, but behind the scenes his top foreign policy adviser has been giving Washington bureaucrats and technocrats the impression that preparations for a UK withdrawal is in the works.
According to the Times of London, Simon McDonald, the prime minister’s chief foreign policy adviser, who formerly ran the Iraq desk at the Foreign Office, was in Washington this month to prepare for the summit. He asked a select group of US foreign policy experts what they believed the effect would be of a British pull-out from Iraq.
“The general feeling was that he was doing the groundwork for a Brown conversation,” according to one of those he consulted. Most of the experts felt it was a question of when, not if, Britain would leave.
“The view is Britain feels it can’t fight two wars, and Afghanistan is more worth fighting for,” added the source.
Brown will leave Camp David today for talks with Congressional leaders before going to New York, where he is expected to deliver a speech on international development at the United Nations tomorrow.