Britain has never had a better friend in the White House than Donald Trump. FDR may have bailed out Britain in its struggle against German imperialism, but the bailout carried the highest possible price: the surrender of Britain’s empire, and loans that weren’t paid off until 2006. By contrast, Trump asks for nothing that Britain isn’t already asking for: economic and political support as it escapes from the latter-day German imperialism of the European Union. And Trump is giving Britain much more.
By omission as much as commission, Trump is cleaning up the messes that Britain left behind as it lost its empire. The British tell themselves that they had no choice to drop their imperial obligations after 1945, that they were bankrupt in victory and the Americans didn’t like empires. This isn’t the full story. In truth, the British had been behaving shabbily in the Three I’s — Ireland, India and Israel — long before they were bankrupt, and with bloody consequences for the locals.
At the imperial apogee of late 19th century, British governments were incapable of managing Irish nationalism. In the 1920s and 1930s, British governments carved up Ireland, promised the Promised Land to both Jews and Arabs, and offset Hindu nationalists in India by supporting Muslim ones. In 1947, Britain’s Labour government, committed to what we now call ‘nation-building at home’, ditched India and the Palestine Mandate in shameful and cynical haste.
The partition of India caused the biggest refugee crisis in history, a death toll estimated between several hundred thousand and two million and, in time, a nuclear stand-off over Jammu and Kashmir. The failed partition of the Palestine Mandate caused the destruction of much of Arab society in the Mandate, the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Arabs from Jewish territory and Jews from their ancient homes in Arab states, and a series of wars that culminated in the Yom Kippur War of 1973 with threats of nuclear war from the Arabs’ patron, the Soviet Union. As for Ireland, that too came home to roost in the form of Irish nationalist terrorism in the UK and, more recently, Theresa May’s minority government being held hostage over Brexit by its Irish Protestant partners.
For more than seven decades, British prime ministers and the suave mediocrities of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office — the heirs to the perpetrators of this blood-soaked diplomatic folly — have inserted themselves into these postcolonial disaster zones but failed to alleviate tensions between India and Pakistan or Israel and the Arabs. Worse, they have exacerbated these situations, by pandering to the Arabs for oil and defence sales and to Pakistan as a cheap way of keeping a toehold in Central Asia, and by sneering at the Israelis for being pushy Jews. The mandarins did no better in Ireland, either: the Troubles ended because Bill Clinton told the parties to stop fighting.
The solution that Britain’s clever civil servants and cunning politicians offered as the answer to their post-imperial poverty was to merge Britain into the floundering undemocratic monstrosity that became the European Union. This has turned out to be the sourest of cherries on the bitter cake of strategic failure, because it turned out that the British public doesn’t want to subordinate Britain to the EU.
Compare this record of failure by British politicians and administrators to what Donald Trump has done for Britain, and is willing to do. By the simple expedient of not wishing to be taken for a fool, and by recognising reality over dogma, he has unknotted the frozen politics of the Three I’s, and made it possible for each to move towards the resolutions that the Foreign & Commonwealth Office or, for that matter, the State Department, have failed to obtain. The orange man is succeeding where the mandarin men failed.
Instead of being played for a fool by the failed state of Pakistan and failed non-state of Palestine — both of them foully hostile to Western interests — Trump has stepped back, and allowed the successful and pro-Western states of India and Israel to begin the work of resolving the unfinished business of the Palestine Mandate and the Partition of India. The Indians are never going to relinquish Kashmir, and the Israelis are never going to leave Jerusalem or Beit El or, given the way the neighbourhood is going, the Golan Heights or the Jordan Valley. Instead of meddling and giving money to terrorists, Trump is allowing the political gravity of the last seven decades to work itself out.
Trump supports Brexit, and is apparently still offering a temporary free-trade deal despite the insult of Theresa May rejecting it the first time he offered it. Once the outlines of Brexit are clear, Northern Ireland, which voted against Brexit, can hold the referendum on its future status that was included in the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. The Catholics and Protestants of Northern Ireland can finally decide whether they want to stay in the UK, which is a major economy with nuclear weapons, a seat on the UN Security Council, and unparalleled post-imperial links to the economies of Asia; or to join the Irish republic, a feeble and distant province of the EU whose economic future is as a kind of Cayman Islands, a tax haven and back office for American corporations. Trump, by pushing for Brexit, is pushing for resolution in Ireland, one way or the other.
All over the world, Trump is doing for Britain almost overnight what Britain’s leaders have failed to do for decades. He’s finally clearing up the shameful mess that Britain left when it welched on its imperial responsibilities, and he’s doing it for free. Instead of snobbishly deriding him, the British should thank the orange man for freeing them from their destructive relationships with the Orangemen in Northern Ireland, and the police-state Islamists of Pakistan and the Palestinian Authority.
The obvious way to thank Trump won’t cost Britain much either. The City of London is already full of crass monuments to greed. One more won’t hurt. Let him build a nice golden Trump Tower in central London, and a Trump Hotel too. If Brexit works out, the government should consider putting a statue of Trump onto the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square, so that the heroes of empire will be joined by the man who cleared up after them. It’s the least Britain can do to thank the best prime minister the British have never had.
Dominic Green is Life & Arts Editor of Spectator USA.