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The Harry Dunn case shows the US-UK ‘special relationship’ isn’t so special

Former US spy Anne Sacoolas remains shielded from British justice for the death of a teenager

Anne Sacoolas, the wife of a US intelligence officer and former spy herself, was handed an eight-month suspended sentence in absentia last week on the conviction of “causing death by dangerous driving.” She had fled the UK following a car crash which caused the death of teenager Harry Dunn in 2019.

Despite calls from Britain that Sacoolas should be prosecuted, as well as an extensive campaign by Harry’s parents to do so, the US government refused to extradite her to face justice, citing diplomatic immunity.

This saga shows that the ‘special relationship’, which describes the extraordinarily close transatlantic ties between London and Washington, isn’t really so special after all. Rather, they constitute a one-way street where one party is made to do the other’s bidding without any real reciprocity. What keeps Britain and its people on board with the situation is a nostalgic vision of their country as a decisive force in the world.

The US is in many ways the heir apparent to the British Empire. Having supplanted the UK’s globe-spanning rule with its own, it may be understood as the rebellious child who ultimately went on to become more successful than its parents, and in the end became their keeper. It was following the events of World War II that would see the British Empire finally unravel, with the hegemonic order it had established being passed on to the US.

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Harry Dunn's family members speak to the media outside the Old Bailey, London, December 8, 2022
US spy avoids jail in death of UK teen

Yet despite this shift, in some ways, Britain has never come to terms with this decline. Although the Empire is long gone, the sentiment of British exceptionalism, universalism, and the belief that the country is a decisive power for ‘good’ in the world remain. The story of Britain’s foreign policy in the past 70 years, from the Suez Crisis to its inability find its place in the EU, which resulted in withdrawal thereafter, all affirm this same narrative, that Britain has always remained something bigger, better, and more significant than its current reality.

And as such, British people have continued to romanticize the relationship with the US as a partnership of equals and a fraternity of sorts. While a common language, similar cultural heritage, and ideology all fuel this imperial nostalgia, in practical terms, it all counts for nothing in the value of how international relations function, and for that matter, how the US perceives the UK. Sure, some Americans also romanticize and even admire Britain, but that does not mean they see this as a brotherhood or partnership of equals.

Although American foreign policy is always clad in value-laden terms and emphasis on ideology, US foreign policy is strictly self-interested, brutal, cynical, and realist. The US ultimately cares nothing about what its allies think, and only sees them as extensions for imposing its own will upon the world. Never has that been more apparent in how one-dimensional the special relationship actually is. To name some examples, the UK, as part of its highly ideological, post-Brexit push for trade deals with its ‘anglosphere’ family, wants a trade deal with the US.

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FILE PHOTO. Charlotte Charles and Tim Dunn, parents of British teen Harry Dunn. © Reuters / EDUARDO MUNOZ; (inset) Anne Sacoolas © Facebook
Family of UK teen Harry Dunn killed by suspected US spy fears coverup. ‘It’s about truth and closure’, spokesman tells RT

America isn’t interested, unless the UK unilaterally lowers its food safety standards, sells out its farmers, and buys American agricultural goods in bulk. The US demands that Britain veto Chinese investments, such as in Huawei, or with the Newport Wafer Fab, even to the point that it may destroy local jobs. The UK, despite initially approving both Chinese deals, readily complied. Although these decisions are self-defeating and expensive, the US doesn’t return the favor. The UK complies, but it doesn’t get any favors from Washington, and that is the story of the special relationship.

Perhaps nothing makes this more evident than the fact that an American can kill a British teenager and then the US government itself obstructs the route to justice. If this was the other way around, the US would have already placed an extradition request in by now; and how does the UK respond to such requests, no matter how dubious the conditions may be? Just ask Julian Assange how it’s going.

Ultimately, there is no ‘special relationship’, only continued subordinance. Britain’s obsession with the legacy of empire and nostalgic dreams allows the US to readily take advantage of it, creating one-way traffic where the UK actively and enthusiastically plays second fiddle.

December 15, 2022 at 10:22PM

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