Having taken the prime minister’s seat in Britain, Boris Johnson might not face Churchill’s existential crisis upon taking office in May 1940, but some instant Churchillian nerve is still called for. Whether he is up to the task of outplaying Iran after it seized the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero in a tit-for-tat move in the Strait of Hormuz will be known soon enough.
The U.S. will have Johnson’s back, but Britain is too major a power not to take care of its own business against the world’s worst terrorist state; so Boris is under the spotlight. At stake is freedom of passage for a vast amount of the world’s energy resources.
Passing that test, however, is but the prelude to more daunting challenges, and an opportunity for greatness in governing unseen since Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher used the famed “special relationship” between the U.S. and Britain to upend economic orthodoxy and ultimately redraw the map of the world.
The Cold War, with its threat of mutual assured destruction, is won, thanks in no small part to Reagan and Thatcher resisting the unilateral nuclear disarmers. But the tasks that President Trump and Britain’s similarly sharp-elbowed new leader face are in some ways harder, and certainly more complex.
If Johnson meets the new fall deadline and carries through the will of the British people, expressed via the 2016 referendum, it will validate, and likely intensify, Britain’s new nationalist populism.
Trump considers Brexit a preface to his 2016 victory, and he is close to its political architect, Nigel Farage. If, confounding Brexit’s critics in Britain, a positive economic outcome results (possibly with Trump’s help in opening new avenues for British trade), a Donald-Boris partnership will bear some uncanny resemblances to Ron and Maggie’s – two champions of capitalism, prosperity, and patriotism, who are joined at the hip and place national interest before multilateral bureaucratic institutions.
Critics accuse Trump of narcissistic delusions in his unusual personal diplomacy with North Korea’s ruthless, nuclear-armed Kim Jong-un, but Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama were all, in assorted ways, bamboozled by this most enigmatic of totalitarian states. An endorsement from Johnson of Trump’s approach, as Pyongyang begins conducting disturbing new ballistic missile tests, will strengthen Trump’s hand and present Kim with a free world whose two most important leaders are in sync.
For decades Western diplomats have peddled the charming fiction of a “peace process.” Actions speak in the Mideast, while words are ignored, and Trump and Johnson can be expected to work together to defend the region’s sole democracy, the state of Israel; bolster flawed allies such as Saudi Arabia; and squeeze Islamofascist Iran — at the same time shutting down the terrorism of al-Qaida, ISIS and other jihadists. Iranian regime change might even be in the cards under the right conditions of a popular uprising.
While many view Trump’s trade assault on Beijing as anti-free market, it is actually a national security calculation — a long-time-coming realization that the dream of freeing China with capitalism has turned out to be a long-term nightmare. China is executing a concrete program to replace America as the dominant military and economic world superpower. Frustrating Beijing’s designs is inconceivable if the U.S. and Britain are not working together against China, as we did against the Soviet Union.
A post-Brexit British boom can’t but encourage other European Union members to imitate the success and fly the coop themselves, as unlikely as it may seem today. As Reagan and Thatcher and their prosperous economies breathed new life into NATO nations after malaise and vulnerability under Jimmy Carter and British Prime Minister James Callaghan, a free Europe, East and West, that looks up to Johnson and the U.S. for muscular leadership will be better protected against both foreign adversaries and economic downturn.
A strong, hawkish renewal of the U.S.-British special relationship is the polar opposite of Vladimir Putin’s objectives in interfering with various elections in the West. Christopher Marsh, the director of research at the U.S. Special Operations Command’s Joint Special Operations University in Tampa, warned in May that Putin has “a coherent global foreign policy agenda that seeks to reposition Russia as a great power in the emerging world order,” possibly in “a Chinese-centric world … a world in which Russia is perhaps distant from European values, but not so distant from European political and economic processes and institutions.”
China might be exploiting free-market mechanisms, and Russia might have abandoned communism in spite of being ruled by an ex-KGB officer determined to remain in power permanently. But both Beijing and Moscow actively seek the decline of American power — and, by extension, representative government throughout the world.
A new Reagan and Thatcher for 2019 and beyond, if Donald and Boris are up to the jobs, are needed more than is commonly realized. The storm may not be gathering as swiftly as it was for Churchill 80 years ago, but the ominous clouds can be seen forming in the far distance.
— Written by Thomas McArdle
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