His extraordinary ‘warning’ to the UK on Brexit – that there would be no trade deal with the US ‘unless you respect the Northern Irish peace pact’ – came mere days after Americans commemorated 9/11. Clearly, irony is not his strong suit. The Democrat presidential nominee’s attempt at intimidation was a piece of serious and ill-informed trouble-making. So what made the former ‘peacenik’ make such deeply distorted and inflammatory comments about the Good Friday Agreement and imply that the EU is some sort of party to it, which it is not, or suggest that the UK was endangering Northern Ireland peace over Brexit?
Let’s be kind. Maybe it’s a memory thing. He must have forgotten that a month after the Twin Towers bombing he ruffled feathers for doing exactly the opposite, declaring that the US should not interfere abroad and lecturing us on Afghanistan and the Muslim world’s perception of America as a ‘bully’ that thinks ‘we can do whatever we want to do’. So Trump shouldn’t be so tough with authoritarian countries like Iran that promote terrorism but it’s OK for Joe to threaten our democracy with the IRA?
Nancy Pelosi is at least consistent. She’s been making the same threatening noises for a while now. Her address to the Dublin Parliament last year lamented ‘our late friend, the extraordinary Martin McGuinness’. American Democrat paddywackery is still fertile ground for American audiences, catering to misconception, prejudices and Irish mythology. Only the coronavirus cancelled the annual dyeing green of the Chicago River to mark St Patrick’s Day in March.
For the rest of us, this porter-beer-and-NORAID sentimentality is dangerous and even more so coming from a potential President. I remember Gerry Adams on Gay Byrne’s Late Late Show in Dublin on RTÉ in 1994, when an panellist called Adams a ‘murderer’ and merely received a lecture from him on ‘sanctimoniousness’.
At least it was marginally better than Adams telling Peter Hitchens he should be ‘decommissioned’. Still, enemies must make peace some time; and yet as long as the bangs are far away from New York and Oklahoma, some in Washington seem happy to light the fuses again.
For what purpose now, though? In 1997 the Good Friday Agreement excluded the moderates to get a deal like that between the Chicago gangster fiefdoms. From sworn enemies to the ‘Chuckle Brothers’, Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley became Northern Ireland’s most unlikely double act. Their successors are unlikely to throw away this achievement for the sake of cross-border management that is much more technically doable now than when Ireland and the UK entered the EU simultaneously in 1973 to circumvent the practical difficulties.
So what motivated Biden’s cheap shot? Does he think independence is good for the US, but bad for the UK because it complicates things for the State Department? Supposedly, Henry Kissinger asked, ‘Who do I call if I want to speak to Europe?’; the answer in 2009 was Cathy ‘gosh’ Ashton. (Not so, according to the FT.) I think we’d prefer our own elected representative, not a bureaucratic appointee.
I’m not holding my breath. Biden’s track record shows he’s been more than a little slow to dissociate himself from the wrong company – or is Jagger’s ‘street-fightin’ man’ really his style?