A journey through the "special relationship" between England and America which has done so much to shape the world, from World War 2 to Brexit, through the lens of the fateful bonds between President and Prime Minister.
... brisk but thorough ... Mr. Buruma comes down, mildly and moderately, on the Europeanist side. Despite fiascoes like the George W. Bush and Tony Blair partnership that led to the Iraq War, he sees much to admire in seven decades of Anglo-American cooperation. And he is far too honest not to acknowledge that whatever can be said in its favor, the EU is anything but a utopia that will fulfill Britain’s dreams at a trivial cost ... a rich and rewarding book, the best overview that exists of Anglo-American relations from Churchill-FDR to the 'bromance' between Boris Johnson and Donald Trump. Mr. Buruma’s personality sketches of both British and American leaders are as insightful as they are sharp ... One wishes, however, that Mr. Buruma had looked harder at the American perspective on a relationship that, though uncapitalized, carries more weight in Washington than the British sometimes understand. The British tend to see the relationship through a transactional lens: How much influence do we get in return for the support we give?
Buruma’s account perhaps unintentionally demonstrates that permanently yoking Britain’s global role to America’s has unnecessarily made permanent Britain’s subservient wartime relationship to the United States. More explicitly, Buruma maintains that London’s ongoing attachment to the special relationship has thwarted Britain from pursuing what he sees as its 'proper' international role ... Clearly, many Britons in both parties share Buruma’s skepticism toward the international role Blair and Cameron have pursued, but Buruma, who also conspicuously wears the mantle of anti-Brexit cosmopolitan, probably wouldn’t plump, as some would, for a Little Englander revival to counter the interventionism that the special relationship has enabled.
... a very familiar, not to say tired, argument ... Whatever you think of Buruma’s case, the next 200 pages are so soul-crushingly predictable that you wonder why he bothered. Like innumerable writers before him, he sees the special relationship as essentially an exercise in British self-delusion, with successive governments trying ever harder to prove their relevance to their American counterparts ... Buruma’s decision to focus entirely on prime ministers and presidents means he has nothing at all to say about the cultural and social dimensions of the Anglo-American relationship. Everybody conforms unerringly to stereotype ... None of it will come as any surprise to anybody who has ever read a newspaper ... Buruma has spent much of his life outside Britain, and it shows. There are one or two small errors...but the bigger problem is that he is so incurious about the British themselves ... He completely misses the resilience of popular Euroscepticism from the 1960s onwards, dismissing it as merely the creation of the 'right-wing tabloid press'. As for his account of Brexit, the problem is not so much that it is one-sided as that it is so comically overwrought ... What is so disappointing is that for a writer of Buruma’s ability, the so-called Churchill complex ought to be a richly promising subject. Yet he has virtually nothing to say about Churchill and empire, and does not even mention his protagonist’s afterlife in films such as The Gathering Storm and Darkest Hour. Instead, he prefers to indulge himself in a long rant about the 'toxic' political culture that has held Britain back. You would hardly guess from his account that, despite its supposedly “rabid” politics, Britain remains one of the richest countries in the world, and that surveys consistently rank its people as some of the happiest in Europe ... This is merely the latest in a long line of books written for the kind of American who is keen to hear what a dementedly arrogant and self-deluding lot the British are, but is uninterested in ordinary British people’s lives. It is like being stuck in a lift with nothing to read but The New York Times. I do not mean that as a compliment.