Alex Massie

Henry Hyde’s transatlantic problem

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I meant to comment on the death of Congressman Henry Hyde before now but never got around to it. National Review says:

During the height of the impeachment controversy, Rep. Maxine Waters, a left-wing Democrat, tried to scold Hyde: “History will not be kind to you.” She was wrong. History will remember Henry Hyde for precisely what he was: One of the great congressmen of his generation — or any generation.

Well it's all about your perspective isn't it? From a British point of view Henry Hyde was one of the very worst Congressmen of his generation (not as ghastly, admittedly, as the loathsome Peter King but arguably more influential). His retirement from Congress was celebrated by British diplomats in Washington and civil servants at the Ministry of Defence.

The reason? Well, the most recent reason was Hyde's adamant, knuckle-headed belief that permitting Britain prompt access to technology transfers that would allow the UK to staff and service its super-new, super-expensive batch of Joint Strike Fighters would be to permit, nay even encourage, the transfer of that technology to foreign powers irredeemably hostile to the United States. (ie, China and, worse, France).

As best I can tell, this is nonsense. Nonetheless, Hyde's obstinacy - important because he chaired the House International Relations Committee - risked an all-out fall-out between London and Washington. Indeed, the UK had to actually threaten to withdraw from the JSF programme unless it received guarantees it would receive the software updates needed to keep the planes flying. The alternative was to subject the UK to the humiliation of only being able to fly the planes if they were serviced by Americans.

In the end, of course, the UK received the assurances it needed. But Hyde's obstinacy risked driving America's closest military ally away. Had Britain bought French jets to staff the two new Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers, it's reasonable to suppose that the UK's entire defence posture - with obvious consequences for future defence procurement - would have changed overnight, tilting away from he United states and towards Europe.

That, theoretically, is not something many Republicans are supposed to welcome. But Henry Hyde was the sort of conservative who thought it sensible to treat your allies as though they were your enemies. After all, who needs friends?

Useful round-up of the JSF brouhaha here.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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