Streetwise Professor

July 22, 2019

A Hollow Nation: A Cockboat in the Wake of the American Man-of-War

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — cpirrong @ 7:13 pm

In 1823, France and Spain, supported by Russia, Austria, and Prussia, threatened to reverse the independence of the revolutionary states in South America that had broken away from Spain. The British prime minister, George Canning, proposed that Britain and the United States send a joint warning to the continental powers. US Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams, rejected the idea:  “It would be more candid, as well as more dignified, to avow our principles explicitly to Russia and France, than to come in as a cockboat in the wake of the British man-of-war.”

How things have changed, in nearly 200 years. Talk about reversal of fortune. The UK now is the cockboat–if that–to the US man-of-war. It now faces humiliation in the Persian Gulf, having to admit after the seizure of a British-flag tanker by Iranian Revolutionary Guards that it hasn’t the means to escort other British ships, or to deter Iran from taking yet more.

A little short of 40 years ago, the British barely had the naval wherewithal to to overcome a third-rate power, Argentina, in the Falklands. Now it cannot even stand up to a fourth-rate (if that) naval power far closer to home, and in a region that had been at the center of British interest since before Adams opined that the US must assert its own interests in the Western Hemisphere. Such are the wages of decades of indifference to one of the primary duties of government: national defense. (Britain has proved increasingly deficient in performing the other as well: maintaining the public safety.)

As a result of its lack of capability, Britain is furiously signaling its desire to tamp down tensions with Iran. Which will only spur the Iranians on.

The United States has been trying to herd its alleged allies into an effort to convoy shipping in the Gulf. But despite all their imprecations against American unilateralism, and their fine words about the transcendent importance of alliances and the vital necessity of maintaining a rules-based international order, they would rather not, thank you very much.

Hollow words. Hollow nations. They deserve only contempt, not deference.

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  1. I was surprised that British-flagged ships still plied the waters in that region. It wouldn’t have taken that much to farm out the registry to Panama or Liberia and stick their flags on the ship.

    Perhaps there was no time to paint over the ship’s name and port of origin.

    Comment by I.M. Pembroke — July 22, 2019 @ 7:45 pm

  2. Our former PM, Gordon Brown, decided to splurge the naval budget on a vanity project – two aircraft carriers. They will probably prove entirely useless, not least because they are going to carry F-35s.

    On the other hand, they were built in Mr Brown’s constituency. What a coincidence!

    As for recent folly over Iran: Theresa May. She has been the most God-awful PM – with the exception of Blair, perhaps the worst in the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries.

    Comment by dearieme — July 23, 2019 @ 5:13 am

  3. Admiral Lord Nelson would be appalled.

    Comment by Tom Kirkendall — July 23, 2019 @ 5:38 am

  4. Us having a Navy is not so important as taxing sugar, banning straws and stopping people from lighting up in bars

    Comment by Bucko — July 23, 2019 @ 7:22 am

  5. @Tom–I was just about to amend the post to say that Drake, Hawkins, Frobisher, Hawke, Rodney, Nelson and Fisher are rolling over in their graves.

    Comment by cpirrong — July 23, 2019 @ 9:37 am

  6. I’ve been watching the high comedy of Iranian ‘navy’ in the gulf from time to time, just knowing something like this was going to come up. Trump has so far not responded with the so richly deserved; ‘I TOLD YOU SO!’. Amazing restraint in one who has shown little concern for stepping on toes, or feet, legs, or trampling the complete body of his lessers. Risking escalating this point, I’m sort of the opinion that I’ve had enough of NATO, and maybe the UN too. At the time and place, and situation both of those bodies proved to be of great value, and kept the Bear caged, and smaller nations were given a voice on the international stage, so that they could be represented. Sadly, most of the NATO members have sucked the power out of NATO without concomitant investment(pay your damn bill!). Similarly, we have hosted, and paid, and paid, and paid with money, time, effort, lives, and dignity to a UN which for the past 25 years has basically held is in utter contempt. We are fortress US, so maybe time for them to bow down, and say ‘thank you’, or even ‘you were right’. But – no. Dignitas would be sacrificed.

    Comment by doc — July 23, 2019 @ 5:09 pm

  7. Craig, another great on-point post. Sad to see the cycle of life apply to such a great former empire with such a storied naval history. We have to be vigilant that our story arc here doesn’t curve downwards too sharply too soon.

    Comment by KavkazWatcher — July 24, 2019 @ 1:06 pm

  8. Britain has become a third-rate power with Great Power pretensions. It is not as though that ranking was ever inevitable. But the country’s political elite have betrayed the country’s interests at every turn since the fall of Margaret Thatcher. What can you say about a country that defends a huge development aid budget from cuts, slices and dices the defence budget, and allows mass Muslim migration? One only need watch that most incompetent of leaders, Teresa May, and her performance during the Brexit fights. The woman was completely out of her depth with no real understanding of what a British PM is supposed to do, backed by a cabinet of self-serving snakes and moral cowards. Perhaps the rise of Boris Johnson — just perhaps — will steer the UK in a different direction. In the meantime, more humiliation will need to be swallowed.

    Comment by Ben — July 24, 2019 @ 2:21 pm

  9. Teresa May meet Admiral Byng

    Comment by The Pilot — July 25, 2019 @ 8:31 am

  10. Yes I’m sure it would have been worthwhile maintaining a huge and expensive naval force in the Gulf just to deter this one incident.

    Are any other former great naval powers providing escorts for their commercial shipping? France, the Netherlands, Sweden?

    Comment by David Mercer — July 25, 2019 @ 8:39 am

  11. @Ben The final nail in the coffin was our participation in those pointless endeavours in Iraq and Afghanistan. The public has understandably had its fill of those awful repatriation ceremonies. Personally I welcome us taking more of a back seat in policing the world, and direct our efforts to more thoughtful, positive interventions (aid can be highly effective). As for this mass Muslim immigration to which you refer, any chance of a link to back up your assertion?

    Comment by David Mercer — July 25, 2019 @ 8:48 am

  12. What are the odds this was deliberately engineered to leave a poison pill on Boris’s desk.
    Both May & Hunt ( Foreign Sec) a couple of days before rejected a US offer to share escort duties, so this was foreseeable and could have been countered if not for political games.

    Comment by Nessimmersion — July 27, 2019 @ 11:28 am

  13. @David Mercer – How about:

    I agree with you about Iraq and Afghanistan. But I would suggest that those operations and their duration are reflections of a commitment by government leaders to a globalist agenda, or at the least of leaders desirous for the praise of globalist-minded people, rather than concern about national interests. I would add Syria to the mix. When our interests demand it, we should intervene — if we have the capabilities and a good prospect of advancing those interests. If not, then don’t get involved and don’t “bring a knife to a gun fight”.

    Comment by Ben — July 27, 2019 @ 3:02 pm

  14. @Nessimmersion. Interesting thought. I definitely agree that it has had this effect, but I think it is a case of correlation, rather than causation. May and Hunt both clearly despise Trump, and have proven utterly incompetent at identifying the UK’s interests. Given Britain’s fraught relationship with Europe, it needs all the friends it can get, and given the Trump administration’s disdain for the EU he is a ready made friend. But their disdain for him led them to reject US assistance, and to crawl to the EU (which is trying to crush the UK) asking for help. The fact that it might have screwed over Boris was just an added benefit.

    Craven doesn’t even come close to doing justice to their actions. Idiotically craven, maybe. The old phrase “never attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence” really doesn’t fit here. May and Hunt were both incompetent and malicious.

    So Johnson now inherits this product of incompetence and malice. But it could be an opportunity for him to build bridges with the US.

    Comment by cpirrong — July 27, 2019 @ 5:40 pm

  15. @Ben

    So a Telegraph article referencing a Pew ‘median’ projection, and a Pew link which is clearly incorrect (bit embarrassing for a Think-tank)? According to official stats the UK’s Muslim population is c.3.37 million:

    Have you ever been to the UK?

    Comment by David Mercer — July 28, 2019 @ 3:08 pm

  16. @SWP…I just noticed the Falklands reference. That has an interesting behind-the-scenes story.
    It is often the case that a nation that seems monolithic from afar really has strong factions pulling against each other. The Soviet Politburo and military when KAL 007 was shot dow comes to mind.
    French military intelligence had Mitterand in their sights (I am not sure of the origins of this dispute). So French intelligence sabotaged a Greenspeace ship in NZ or somewhere South Pacific, and they left scuba gear with their name on it for Mitterand to try to explain.
    IN any case, the French sold Exocet missiles to the Falklands, and when Thatcher sent a troopship she asked Mitterand if the Argentines knew how to operate the Exocets. Mitterand put Thatcher on hold, asked his intelligence head “Can they use those missiles we sold them? And he got the answer: “No”, he lied. Disaster ensued.

    Comment by Richard Whitney — July 28, 2019 @ 5:39 pm

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