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United States Of America

February 10, 2009

United States Of America

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) on securing this important debate. I am surprised to be making a full speech because I had assumed that there would be time only for a short intervention. I did not realise that so few Members would be present. It is a shame because, as my hon. Friend said, this is an important area of policy for both this country and the world at large. He made a heartfelt and thoughtful speech. Many of his wife’s family are in the United States, so he spends a lot of time there and understands its ethos.

Let me turn to what the United States of America means to me. As a very young boy I was told of the experiences of a five-year-old girl in the last few months of the second world war. She was very fearful because she had been forced from her home and had ended up in a small village just outside Leipzig, which initially was liberated by the Americans—prior to Yalta and Potsdam—and put into what became East Germany. That young girl remembered the great kindness of the American GIs in the immediate aftermath of the war. Like some of the Russian soldiers, the Americans were by no means entirely innocent of some of the atrocities that went on at the time. None the less, those young GIs gave that young girl her first taste of chocolate and fruit, and she remembered that for the rest of her life. That young girl was my mother, who was a refugee in eastern Europe as the war came to an end. Her story is one of the reasons why, from a very young age, I have very much admired and loved the United States.

My hon. Friend referred to anti-Americanism. He was right to suggest that although there is a sense of a new dawn under the new President, anti-Americanism did not begin under the erstwhile presidency of George W. Bush. Such a feeling goes back many decades. I was an undergraduate in the mid-1980s at the height of President Reagan’s rule, and a lot of the anti-Americanism that existed then was driven by envy—envy of America’s wealth and of its superpower status. It was one of two superpowers at that juncture. It was the policies of Ronald Reagan—based on much of the thinking of President Nixon—that ensured that America reigned supreme and that the cold war ended in the defeat of communism.

There is, of course, another element of anti-Americanism. In an old country such as ours, we have tended to regard America as slightly naïve. Its love of freedom, opportunity and aspiration somewhat grates in much of British public life. As my hon. Friend rightly pointed out, we have seen great benefits from America over the last century, certainly in regard to the first and second world war when it bailed us out. Obviously, we stood very tall during those terrible months in 1940 and 1941 before America emerged on the scene. There were no great votes for President Wilson when he finally entered the first world war against the forces of the German and Turkish empires as they were then. Therefore, we have seen those benefits, and we should never underestimate them. One of the difficulties that we face today is that we have only one superpower, and that so much is being driven by America, particularly in the military field, in the aftermath of the terrible terrorist atrocities of 9/11.

My hon. Friend spoke in a very heartfelt way about the issue of the special relationship. However, such a relationship should not be overstated. I am not in any way being negative about the new President. I know that he brings with him great hope, but there is possibly an over-burdening expectation of what his presidency will achieve. Such feelings of expectation could, I suspect, turn to disappointment. None the less, I also suspect that his presidency will prove to be a success. I imagine that he will be re-elected with a very large majority in the future.

My hon. Friend talked about America’s strategy in relation to Turkey, which stems from the fact that it regards Europe as a homogenous block. Much as we have a good relationship with America, which is based on common language, and common history, it would be wrong to overstate the nature of that relationship. If we look at the large Hispanic population in America, and then spool forward a decade or so, I suspect that we will find few people talking about the special relationship between our two countries. Instead, American foreign policy will focus on its relationship with Europe.

Although I instinctively agree with much of what my hon. Friend had to say about the importance of nation states, I also fear that the tremendous economic turmoil facing this country, and the world, will be with us for some years to come. We will hear increasing voices in this country—from across the political spectrum—calling for us to integrate with the power block in Europe. Remember, we eventually joined the EC in 1973 as a defence mechanism. We felt that the only way forward for this country was to latch ourselves on to Europe. That debate on our integration within an all-powerful European block will go on in the decades ahead. In the future, the world will be in blocks. For the short term, the United States will be the only economic, military and political superpower. Clearly, China and India are developing at a great pace.

We must also look to the future, and the United State’s role going forward. Clearly, the 20th century was the American century, just as much of the 19th century, in the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars, was the British century. The great, tumultuous events in the financial markets and the economic downturn, and the sense of insecurity that will be felt by a great many millions in this country and throughout the world, will mean that some of the trends by which power has moved eastwards will accelerate. China has 1.3 billion people, and India 1.1 billion people, and both have huge and growing middle classes. Although those countries will not by any means be immune from the impact of recession and the downturn, they will mean only that their growth will be lower than in the past. They will still have economic growth of which we would be proud even in our better times. We will therefore see the emergence of China and India not only as economic superpowers, but as political and military powers. Consequently, America’s place in the world will be different, as will our relationship with it. I appreciate that I am moving slightly off topic, Mr. Olner—I saw a disapproving eyebrow.

As I said, I am a passionate supporter of the USA and its great ideals, especially when, on occasion, it does not quite reach those ideals. I am especially proud because I have always had a very strong sense of personal connection with the country. Of course, the American embassy is in Grosvenor square in my constituency, and I have been proud to play a small part as a parliamentarian in helping to develop relations between our two countries.

I will be interested in what the Minister says when she sums up. The debate has been thoughtful, and I appreciate that we have touched on a range of things. It is easy, in the euphoria following the election of President Obama, to look at things in a slightly superficial way, not least because he is a very forward looking, thoughtful and philosophical man. He has a sense—I suspect that it will develop in the months and years ahead—of America’s place in the world and how the world will develop, and I will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about it.