2013-05-14 04:25:25

Alliance with waning influence

The US and UK are still counting on talks rather than military action to solve the civil war in Syria. But their talks in Washington highlighted the diminishing influence of the US-British alliance on the global stage.
Around ten years ago, Tony Blair and George W. Bush were another set of UK and US leaders to meet the press at the White House. They were about to announce the invasion of Iraq, to make history with what was supposed to be a short and successful war. Yet it lasted almost ten years and the consequences are still with us today.

The meeting between Cameron and Obama on Monday was a lot more restrained. The almost traditional jokes about cricket and baseball between the two personal and political allies seemed somewhat stale this time round.

At the press conference it quickly was clear that both are still hoping for a negotiation path for Syria. A new summit, together with Russia, is to bring the turnaround.

For Heather Conley, from the respected Washington think tank CSIS, this restrain by the US and Britain is a consequence of a decade of war. "It's clearly Iraq, but quite frankly I also think it's Afghanistan, the fatigue of 12 years of international engagement for both countries," she says.

And even ethnic-religious fighting, chemical weapons, a brutal dictator and an estimated 80,000 dead in Syria are not enough to change that. No sign of action from Washington or London, no official word of a no-fly zone as some politicians in the US are demanding.

Obama and Cameron both still count on the support of Russian President Vladimir Putin. They keep mentioning him so much that there is little doubt that the one with the most influence in the situation in Syria is actually missing from the talks in Washington. Cameron said his meeting with the Russian president on Friday in Moscow had been very constructive. Obama admitted, however, that there still was a lot of mistrust between Russia and some members of the G8 and that he could not guarantee the summit would be a success.

While this does not seem too terribly optimistic for the future of the conflict in Syria, the issue is likely to be politically important, especially for Cameron. It draws attention away from the conflict in his very own party. In Britain, he sees himself faced with growing calls for an exit from the European Union. "It's always useful when you can put foreign policy issues into the focus, covering up domestic issues," the former head of the Munich Security Conference, Horst Teltschick, explained. "And he can do exactly that with his two trips to Moscow and Washington."

The June G8 summit in Northern Ireland is also coming at a welcome time for the British prime minister. The focus here will be on measures to boost the global economy, Obama said, possibly with a subtle aside aimed at Germany, criticizing Merkel's insistence on budget discipline and austerity.

What is certain is that both Obama and Cameron agree on their economic strategies. But, as in the case with Syria, the very player with the biggest influence is actually missing. "The UK does not play the strongest role here. That really is the US-German relationship," Conley explained. "There are several reasons why the US and the UK have similar and strong views on the economy, but when it comes to influencing European economic policy we realize that the UK has some diminishing influence in that realm.”

Despite the common ground between Obama and Cameron, the meeting in Washington will have little impact on the global stage.

(agencies)

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