May buries Blair doctrine of intervention in nod to US
by George Parker, Financial Times
January 27, 2017 | 2:40 pm| | | Start Conversation
PM eyes ‘special’ Trump relationship; Views diverge on Nato and torture
Theresa May last night ripped up Tony Blair’s doctrine of “liberal interventionism”, declaring that the days when the UK and US invaded countries to engage in nation building were over.
But setting out her vision for a new “special relationship” between post-Brexit Britain and Donald Trump’s US, she said both countries had a duty to provide world leadership.
In a foreign policy speech to congressional Republicans in Philadelphia, she said the “eclipse of the west” in the 21st century by China and India was not inevitable but the US and UK had to “lead together, again”.
She was speaking on the eve of a delicate meeting with Mr Trump, which comes a day after Enrique Peña Nieto, Mexican president, pulled out of a summit at the White House next week in a spat over Mr Trump’s border wall plan.
Mrs May said on her way to the US that she was confident she could forge a successful partnership with Mr Trump, remarking: “Haven’t you ever noticed that, sometimes, opposites attract?”
But she was also at pains to emphasise her differences with the president, rejecting his positive stance on torture and stressing her backing for Nato, which he has called “obsolete”.
Her speech repudiated the Blair doctrine – set out in a speech in Chicago in 1999 – that the west should be more willing to intervene militarily to replace dictatorships with democracy.
That view has informed British foreign policy for almost two decades and formed part of the justification for the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. But Mrs May dismissed the “failed policies of the past” and declared: “The days of Britain and America intervening in sovereign countries in an attempt to remake the world in our own image are over. But nor can we afford to stand idly by when the threat is real and when it is in our own interests to intervene.”
In some respects she was bowing to the inevitable: Mr Trump has already declared that the US will only intervene where its national interests are at stake.
In a plea to the president, Mrs May said the world continued to benefit enormously from bodies such as Nato, the UN, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. “The institutions upon which the world relies were so often conceived or inspired by our two nations working together,” she said.
She argued that the world faced new threats, including radical Islam and – in a nod to Mr Trump – the “malign influence” of Iran in the Middle East. She tried to align Britain with Mr Trump’s views in some areas, calling for the west to engage with Russia over Syria and evoking concerns over the rise of China.
But she differed from Mr Trump on Russia, arguing that President Vladimir Putin was adopting an “aggressive” approach to foreign policy.
Her speech came against the backdrop of Mr Trump’s first week in office, during which he suggested he shared little of Mrs May’s enthusiasm for global trade and international co-operation.
The prime minister’s mission is fraught with political danger, especially if she is seen in EU capitals to be indulging the president at the expense of European unity.
With Brexit removing EU membership as one of the pillars of foreign policy, Mrs May has little choice but to try to reinforce the “special relationship” with the US.But she was anxious not to be seen as a supplicant in Washington, not least because it would undermine Brexit talks if she were seen in Europe as part of a rival “Anglo-Saxon” alliance. Mr Trump has indicated he would be relaxed if the EU fell apart.
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