The US-UK special relationship is the cornerstone of American foreign policy in Europe and arguably the Middle East as well. This past November 7th, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and UK Secretary of State for Defense John Reid gave a joint news briefing (the full text can be found here).
Sec. Rumsfeld thanked the British:
"Throughout much of modern history, the special relationship between the United States and Great Britain has dealt repeated blows to totalitarianism of various stripes. The world is safer and our countries are safer because of the uncommon steel of the British people. We're grateful for our partnership and for your friendship, Mr. Secretary."
Considering PM Tony Blair's extreme costly political efforts on behalf of the special relationship, it was the least the Secretary could say, and his words are well true.
Sec. Reid begins his address touching on the same subject while expanding on the threat faced to Western Civilization:
"I'm delighted to be here, and I hope the fact that we are standing together on so many issues -- which we've discussed today, from Iraq through Afghanistan and the many other theatres where we are working together; more importantly, our service men and women continue to work together -- is a symbol of our enduring relationship.
I think the thing which lies at the heart of that is shared values, and the struggle which is going on on the global sphere at present is indeed a battle of our values. It is at heart an ideological struggle between those of us who adhere to 21st century values and those who are trying to impose seventh century values in large sections of the world. Though it is ideological at heart, it manifests itself in the worst forms of terrorism -- innocent civilians targeted indiscriminately by people who have no constraints of morality, conventions or legality. It therefore makes it a very, very difficult battle for the young service men and women who serve both our countries with such distinction, courage and fortitude."
It is important that the discussion of radical Islam be framed as a battle against the West on a "battle of our values". From an American perspective, this distinction seems often lost on the European press, not to mention a few US publications as well. Sec. Reid goes on to attack those in the Main Stream Media (MSM) and elsewhere who argue that change in Iraq is going too slow, by putting it in a historical context.
"I've had some people say that the failure to achieve absolute unanimity within 18 months was indeed a failure. Well, coming from a country, the United Kingdom, which has a similar continual discussion about the nationalities within a nation-state, and now in the 837th year of trying to resolve the Irish settlement in Northern Ireland and the 300 years just having settled the Scottish one, I think the Iraqis have done damn well to get where they have in 18 months quite frankly, Secretary Rumsfeld. And to see 64 percent of the Iraqi population coming out in the elections, a greater turnout, despite the threats to themselves, than there was in our general election and probably your presidential election, is a sign of encouragement."
While the conference was a good opportunity for the two Secretaries to give their continued view and rationale for the direction of the campaign in Iraq, the question-and-answer session hit upon some interesting topics.
Joint Strike Fighter
Regarding the JSF program, which will be the largest ever US military purchase, spanning the AirForce, Navy and Marines with different versions of the JSF along with orders from the British and Japanese governments, the US commitment was called into question.
"[W]e're pretty confident that the United States, in their own interests, not just in ours, will make the sensible decisions on the Joint Strike Fighter. It is true, it is a huge part of our future planning. We don't have forces, or for that matter the budget the size of the United States. But we do, I believe, have forces that are equipped, capable and active in terms of meeting the modern threats. And part of that is the ability to reach out, to have sustainable reach. And that is why we've ordered a final perusal of our plans to build two carriers which are three times the size of anything that we've got at present. And if we have such carriers to sustain a presence a long distance from the United Kingdom over a long period, we need a good airplane to operate off them. And the airplane we want to get is the Joint Strike Fighter, and I see no reason at the moment to be worried about that."
Iranian and Syrian Involvement in Iraq
On the issue of Iranian and Syrian involvement against coalition forces in Iraq:
"Q: Mr. Minister, the top British general down in Basra last week said that he was concerned and had solid evidence that Iran was moving technology and materials over into Iraq. Can you elaborate on that and your concerns, especially in southern Iraq, with these explosives coming across the border?
SEC. REID: Do you mean General Dutton?
Q: Dutton. Yeah.
SEC. REID: Yeah. Yeah, well, for obvious reasons I don't want to go into the technicalities of it, but it is our belief that the nature of the devices being used against British troops and possibly elsewhere in Iraq in recent months bear the hallmark of groups like Hezbollah and may well be connected with elements within Iran. We don't have the evidence that says this is being backed by the Iranian government, but it is nevertheless worrying, and we've made representations to Iran, because it would obviously not be right for a country to be publicly supporting democratic self-determination in Iraq at the same time as it was allowing or in any way encouraging the use of terrorism or violence.
So it's as simple as that; we have put that. And putting it in a wider context, of course, if we have those worries -- along with the duplicity which Iran has been using in the development of its nuclear capability -- as witnessed not by me or Secretary Rumsfeld, but by the International Atomic Energy Authority, and then the sort of statements that we've seen from the Iranian president about wiping off the face of the map another member state of the United Nations, then all of these items come together and they are worrying."