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The Revenge of the Special Relationship

Of all the older democracies, it is in Britain and the United States that right-wing populists have taken over conservative parties and rule their respective countries. This is not an accident, but rather an outcome that has been 75 years in the making.

NEW YORK – Seventy-five years ago, the prestige of the United States and the United Kingdom could not have been higher. They had defeated imperial Japan and Nazi Germany, and they did so in the name of freedom and democracy. True, their ally, Stalin’s Soviet Union, had different ideas about these fine ideals, and did most of the fighting against Hitler’s Wehrmacht. Still, the English-speaking victors shaped the post-war order in large parts of the world.

The basic principles of this order had been laid down in the Atlantic Charter, drawn up in 1941 by Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt on a battleship off the coast of Newfoundland. What they had in mind, after the eventual defeat of the Axis powers, was a world of international cooperation, multilateral institutions, and the right of peoples to be independent and free. Although Churchill resisted extending this right to Britain’s colonial subjects, Roosevelt believed that the Anglo-American relationship was too important to quarrel about it too much.

For many decades, despite a number of reckless wars, eruptions of Cold War hysteria, and opportunistic support for some very undemocratic allies, the UK and the US maintained their image as models of liberal democracy and internationalism.

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