Jan 28, 2017 - by Dr. Oliver Schmidtke, Centre for Global Studies, University of Victoria

It is not by accident that British Prime Minister Theresa May is the first foreign leader hosted by President Trump in the White House. Both sides need the symbolically staged affirmation of the close relationship between both countries: For domestic reasons, Theresa May feels compelled to demonstrate a clear vision for Great Britain in the world after the Brexit vote. Reinvigorating robust transatlantic ties, both with a view to international trade and a collective stewardship of global affairs, is meant to re-position Great Britain on the global scale amidst the uncertainty created by the decision to leave the European Union.

(Listen also to the radio interview : As Trump takes office as the president of the United States of America, Kirk LaPointe speaks with Oliver Schmidtke, an expert in European relations and geopolitics, to comment on the first days of Trump’s presidency and the challenges to democracy associated with the rise of nationalist populism in the US and Europe.)

Similarly, President Trump is in urgent need of an opportunity to project some competence in designing his new foreign policy. He has been off to a rocky start in this respect: Not only has he prompted - without any manifest reason - a diplomatic war with China even before becoming president. This week Trump has also alienated and insulted the leader of its southern neighbour to a point that the Mexican president canceled his trip to Washington. All this unfolds while the US State Department's entire senior management team has resigned (or has been forced out) leaving the foreign policy file of the incoming administration in shambles.

Yet, even if there is strategic interest in re-confirming the strong ties between two countries, how realistic is it that we will see a new period of what Churchill initially called the ‘special relationship’ between Great Britain and the US (and that was confirmed by the close Thatcher-Reagan alliance)? Theresa May has invited President Trump to join her in providing leadership on the world stage. Yet, so far it is far from clear what kind of leadership the Trump administration is even willing to offer, - if things are only truly about ‘American interests first’. In her desperation to shift international trade and foreign policy prerogatives away from the European Union, Theresa May needs to be careful that she does not fall into the same trap that Tony Blair did during his time in office (the suggestion to be Bush’s lapdog has hurt his standing tremendously). Even within her own Conservative Party, let alone the British public at large, there is widespread concern about where President Trump is taking the United States. It would be a tricky and risky strategy to tie her vision of ‘global Great Britain’ too closely to Trump’s unpredictable foreign policy approach. 


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