David Cameron's declaration of independence

Posted on May 17, 2010

After watching ties between Britain and the United States deteriorate over the past 17 months, many Americans are hoping for a turnabout under David Cameron. A speech the conservative leader gave four years ago suggests they will be sorely disappointed. Cameron and Obama share much in common -- and that means the special relationship is in deep trouble.

In 2006, Cameron delivered what amounted to a declaration of independence from America, and a surprisingly aggressive attack on U.S. foreign policy (under the guise of criticizing "neo-conservatism," which he said had guided America since the Sept. 11 attacks). Cameron began by dutifully rejecting anti-Americanism, which he said "represents an intellectual and moral surrender." But he quickly went on to castigate America's approach to national security, calling it "unrealistic and simplistic," driven by "easy sound bites" and lacking in "humility and patience." Neo-conservatism, Cameron said, advances "a view which sees only light and darkness in the world -- and which believes that one can be turned to the other as quickly as flicking a switch."

Cameron went on tear down this straw man. He criticized America's response to Sept. 11, arguing that "by positing a single source of terrorism -- a global jihad -- and opposing it with a single global response -- American-backed force -- we will simply fulfill our own prophecy." This approach, he said, "can too easily have the opposite effect to the one intended: making the extremists more attractive to the uncommitted." In other words, America's response to Sept. 11 aided terrorist recruitment and fueled global jihad. This is essentially President Obama's critique of the Bush administration's approach to terrorism.

Cameron laid out his vision for a "post neo-conservative world." It sounds a lot like Obama's vision. He called for a "new emphasis on multilateralism," adding "we have found in recent years, a country may act alone -- but it cannot always succeed alone." He approvingly quoted two vocal Bush critics -- then-Sens. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and Joe Biden (D-Del.) -- attacking America's supposedly go-it-alone approach. He criticized Guantanamo Bay and "excessive periods of detention without trial" and warned that a "moral mission requires moral methods. Without them, we are merely war-makers." He said of America's efforts to promote democracy in the Middle East, "Liberty grows from the ground, it cannot be dropped from the air by an unmanned drone." And he declared that henceforth we should work through "the United Nations . . . [which] confers the ultimate legitimacy on any multilateral action."

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