JOE Biden and his handlers have worked to create an image of him as an amiable old buffer, prone to forgetting where he is or what he is supposed to be saying. Behind that convenient facade, however, he has presided over a fiercely ideological administration that has waged an unprecedentedly vindictive campaign against all political opposition.
Last week, whilst visiting both parts of Ireland, the buffer image was out in force to excuse Biden from a series of supposed gaffes. Most memorably he made reference to the ‘Black and Tans’ when supposedly intending to refer to the New Zealand ‘All Blacks’ rugby union side.
The Black and Tans were a paramilitary unit of the Royal Irish Constabulary, the pre-independence police force in Ireland, established in 1920. Their activities, including involvement in assassinations, torture and much else, are regarded as highly controversial. The term was extended to anyone perceived to still be pro-British in Dublin after Irish independence officially came into effect in 1922, an era when parts of Dublin continued to elect unionist pro-British politicians and voluntary service in the British Army remained a popular career choice amongst working-class Dubliners, both Catholic and Protestant.
By appearing to make casual reference to the Black and Tans instead of the All Blacks rugby team, Joe Biden, or at least his handlers, would know that this supposed slip would play out well with certain parts of the Democrat Party’s power base back in the US, particularly those from the Irish diaspora. As usual, there was no rush to correct the supposed slip. On the contrary, Biden seemed to revel in it.
Of itself it would be a slip of little consequence, until that is we recall the original purpose of Biden’s visit, at least in part, was to encourage moves to re-establish a new power-sharing administration in Northern Ireland. And it was far from the only controversial incident during his visit.
GB News covered a story where the President’s car was not displaying the Union Flag during the visit to Northern Ireland, displaying instead the Presidential Standard, the flag used in the United States itself.
The White House and the Biden administration would know perfectly well that the convention when the President’s car is in the territory of a foreign state is for it to display both the American flag and the flag of the host nation. The Irish tricolour was certainly on display on Biden’s car throughout his visit to the Republic.
Biden didn’t seem overly keen on spending much time with Rishi Sunak who had travelled to Belfast to greet him during the Northern Ireland leg of his visit, granting the UK Prime Minister what the US delegation jokingly described as a ‘bi-latte’ rather than the full bilateral meeting that the British were seeking.
For good measure, Biden proceeded to lecture the British Government while addressing the Irish Parliament, insisting it was Britain that needed to work more closely with Dublin to resolve matters concerning the border with Northern Ireland and conveniently ignoring the extent to which both Dublin and Brussels had weaponised this issue during the UK’s protracted exit from the EU and also post-Brexit.
Having delivered maximum damage to any prospect of a new administration in Stormont being installed, Biden and his handlers were no doubt content with how the whole charade played out amongst American voters with Irish Republican sentiments.
Perhaps if this serves as a final wake-up call for those in British politics and media who still insist on talking about the ‘special relationship’ between Britain and the US, some good might come of the controversial visit. True, some UK Prime Ministers and US Presidents did enjoy very warm relationships which were of mutual benefit for both nations. Ronald Reagan/Margaret Thatcher and John F Kennedy/Harold Macmillan are two partnerships that spring to mind. For too long, however, Britain has appeared by far the needier partner in the relationship. Whenever the Americans say ‘jump’, the British reply invariably is ‘how high?’ In return the UK has had to endure tiresome American meddling in its politics at inconvenient moments such as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s notorious comments about the UK ‘being at the back of the queue’ for any trade deal with the US, both at the height of the Brexit referendum campaign and in its aftermath.
From Iraq to Ukraine, Britain has jumped to America’s side whilst other nations weigh up their own interests first. A rare exception was when Harold Wilson resisted Lyndon Johnson’s requests to send British troops to Vietnam. Whatever faults he might otherwise have had, Wilson showed himself to be far more mature in his relationships with Washington than most of his successors, especially Tony Blair and David Cameron. If Sunak was able to smell the coffee in that brief meeting with Biden, perhaps a maturer, more pragmatic relationship will finally emerge. It won’t be before time.