Shortly before the first Gulf War Margaret Thatcher famously warned the first President Bush not to go “wobbly.” Rudy Giuliani reminded us of that warning when he gave the Atlantic Bridge’s inaugural Margaret Thatcher Lecture in London Wednesday night. He offered a moving “thank you” to the tens of thousands of British soldiers who helped to liberate Iraq and Afghanistan. He urged Washington and Westminster politicians to finish the job that our two nations’ brave soldiers had begun. Few listening to America’s Mayor could suspect that this man was about to go “wobbly” in the war on terror — or “the terrorists’ war on us” as he prefers to call it.
He went on to heap praise on Britain throughout his talk — organized by the hawkish Conservative defense spokesman, Liam Fox. He affirmed the view that is common in the Republican party — and rare within Democrat circles — that Britain is America’s most reliable ally. Britain, he said, took its NATO responsibilities seriously — unlike every other European Union nation bar the Netherlands. He paid tribute to the quality of Britain’s intelligence services and made interesting proposals on how U.K.-U.S. cooperation could improve further. His audience, which was overwhelmingly Conservative, heard him praise Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, too. They understood the nature of the terrorist threat, he said.
As a patriot I always enjoy hearing my country praised, but I felt that Mayor Giuliani was too generous. I felt the same earlier this week when General Petraeus, visiting Prime Minister Brown, appeared to offer support for the retreat of British troops to Basra airport. American leaders appear so keen to maintain good relations with their most reliable ally that they are afraid to share a few important truths. Two truths stand out: the weakness of Britain’s armed forces and the government’s appeasement of Muslim extremism.
Gordon Brown, when Tony Blair’s chancellor of the Exchequer, never really approved of the Iraq war. He declined to stop Tony Blair — which was certainly within his power — but he made him go to war on a peacetime budget. American troops who have fought alongside the British know that our men are as brave as any previous generation but they also know that they are very poorly equipped. If Brown and Blair really were serious about the terror threat they would have invested serious money in Britain’s armed forces. They haven’t. While George W Bush has been strengthening America’s military capacity — a trend Giuliani is determined to continue — Britain is devoting a dangerously small proportion of its national wealth to defense. The percentage commitment is back to the level seen when Neville Chamberlain was in Downing Street.
The second big wobbly factor is the British state’s handling of domestic Muslim extremism. Despite repeated calls from Conservative leader David Cameron to ban the Islamist organization, Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Government has declined to act. The Brown administration recently resumed a dialogue with the Muslim Council of Britain — an organization that has declined to support Britain’s Holocaust Memorial Day and, at best, has been inactive in tackling extremism. Brown is in danger of repeating the same mistake that Blair made in his dealings with Irish Republicanism. Blair spent so much time wooing the leaders of the Sinn Fein extremists that all ambitious young nationalists gradually abandoned their more moderate political representatives. The British government is failing to build strong links with the more moderate voices within the nation’s Muslim communities.
It may be that Mayor Giuliani was more robust in his private talks with Prime Minister Brown or, perhaps, he’s waiting until he hopes to be in power for such difficult conversations. I don’t know. He’s certainly building an advisory team that will help him understand Britain’s strengths and weaknesses. Former Thatcher advisers Robert Conquest, David Pryce-Jones, and Nile Gardiner have all been asked to help his campaign. In yesterday’s address the former Mayor took up one of Nile Gardiner’s Heritage Foundation ideas that Israel should be invited to join NATO. I hope that he will also embrace Gardiner’s Euroscepticism. Under Brown and Blair Britain is becoming more and more enmeshed with the European Union. If British defense and foreign policy is increasingly constrained by Brussels then Britain really will have gone wobbly for good.
– Tim Montgomerie is editor of BritainAndAmerica.com.