Ambassador Kennedy and his family retreated to the countryside during the bombings of London by German aircraft in World War II. In so doing, he damaged his reputation with the British.This move prompted Randolph Churchill to say, “I thought my daffodils were yellow until I met Joe Kennedy.”
More than eighty years have passed since the last time an American with significant political influence believed the British people were finished and placed his bets on a powerful continental empire ruled by Germany.
In 1938, President Roosevelt appointed Joseph Patrick Kennedy (the father of Joe Jnr, John, Robert and Teddy Kennedy) as the United States Ambassador to the Court of St James. Kennedy hoped to succeed Roosevelt and move into the White House himself in the 1940 Election. They had known each since Roosevelt was Assistant Secretary of the Navy and Kennedy had managed the ship building yards at Bethlehem Steel in east Boston during the First World War.
On June 13, 1938, in London, Kennedy met the German ambassador to the United Kingdom, who claimed upon his return to Berlin that Kennedy had told him that “it was not so much the fact that we want to get rid of the Jews that was so harmful to us, but rather the loud clamour with which we accompanied this purpose. Kennedy himself fully understood our Jewish policy.” Kennedy’s main concern with such violent acts against German Jews as Kristalnacht was that they generated bad publicity in the West for the Nazi regime, a concern that he communicated in a letter to Charles Lindberg.
Joe Kennedy told a British reporter in late 1939 that he was confident that Roosevelt would “fall” in the next election. Kennedy was none too happy about FDR running for another term but in the end did not oppose him standing. However, some remarks by Joe Kennedy, that democracy was finished in Europe and maybe America as well, proved too much for FDR – he recalled Kennedy.
Roosevelt appointed John G Winant as US ambassador who remained in that post until he resigned in March 1946.Winant dramatically changed the U.S. stance towards Britain. Upon landing at Bristol airport in March 1941, Winant announced “I’m very glad to be here. There is no place I’d rather be at this time than in England.” The remark heartened a country that had come through the Battle of Britain and was in the midst of the Blitz, and it featured dramatically on the front pages of most British newspapers next day.
The new ambassador quickly developed close contacts with King George VI and Prime Minister Winston Churchill, even though the U.S. was only providing military aid and the Axis was not yet at war with the U.S. Winant had an affair with Churchill’s second daughter Sarah during that time. Winant was with Churchill when the Prime Minister learned of the attack on Pearl Harbour.
No invitation ever came to run for President for Joe Kennedy who accepted fate and set about raising the money from his considerable fortune which would allow his sons to run in the future. Kennedy soon opposed the idea of lend-lease on the grounds that any weapons supplied to the British inevitably would fall into the hands of the Germans when they occupied the British Isles.
Tragedy from losing his eldest son and a daughter’s British husband, both killed in action near the end of the war, was overtaken twenty-three years later by dazzling success when America elected its first Catholic President. As Bob Hope put it on election night 1963 – ‘I knew Jack Kennedy was the next President when he won three states he didn’t even own.’
Jack (JFK) and Harold Macmillan got on well. They’re the origin of moving our nuclear deterrent beneath the waves. Bobby tried to stop our confrontation with Indonesia when Sukarno tried to grab newly independent Malaysia’s territories in North Borneo – the war in Vietnam was heating up. But their father is the Kennedy remembered by people my age in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Leaving Joe aside, I’ve been working alongside Americans for more than sixty years. Most of my closest friends across the Atlantic are real Irish Americans. By that I mean first, second or third generation. My longest and closest friend in the United States since 1969 in the Vietnam War, many would say is a legendary Irish American diplomat. Together we wrote the story of his escape down the Ba Sac River in 1975, Escape with Honor, regarded by the State Department as part of the official history of its role in the Vietnam War.
The Irish American Vote
To give an idea of how the Irish American vote sways a Presidential Election, let’s look at the last one in 2020. Americans vote for several hundred members of an electoral college who actually cast the votes that pick the next President of the United States. Here is an extract from a summary posted by The Council for Foreign Relations….
So the final tally in the Electoral College was 306 to 302. That, of course, is the reverse of the margin Donald Trump won by in 2016. He called that a “ massive landslide victory.”
Biden flipped five states on his way to winning the Electoral College: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Every other state held to form.
The Popular Vote
Biden won 81,283,098 votes, or 51.3 percent of the votes cast. He is the first U.S. presidential candidate to have won more than 80 million votes. Trump won 74,222,958 votes, or 46.8 percent of the votes cast. That’s more votes than any other presidential candidate has ever won, with the exception of Biden. (Third-party candidates picked up 1.8 percent of the votes cast.)
More than 159 million Americans voted in 2020: 159,633,396 to be exact. That’s the largest total voter turnout in U.S. history and the first time more than 140 million people voted. Voter turnout in 2020 was the highest in 120 years when measured as a percentage of the voting-eligible population: 66.7 percent. You have to go back all the way to 1900 to find a higher percentage turnout (73.7 percent). The election of 1876 holds the record for highest turnout: 82.6 percent. That, of course, was also one of America’s most controversial and consequential elections—and not in a good way.
Minnesota holds pride of place with the highest state voter turnout. Eighty percent of Minnesotans went to the polls. Oklahoma holds the dubious distinction of being the state with the lowest voter turnout. Just 55 percent of Oklahomans voted.
So did Biden win comfortably? Yes, if you go by the popular vote. In the past six presidential elections, only Barack Obama in 2008 won by a larger total vote margin than the 7,060,140-vote margin that Biden piled up. Likewise, Biden’s 4.5 percentage point lead is the largest win in the past six elections other than Obama’s seven-point win in 2008.
But as Andrew Jackson, Samuel Tilden, Grover Cleveland, Al Gore, and Hillary Clinton can all attest, winning the popular vote doesn’t necessarily mean winning the presidency. When you look at the smallest popular vote shift needed to give Trump a victory, the 2020 election was close. Indeed, it was even closer than 2016. If Trump picked up the right mix of 42,921 votes in Arizona (10,457), Georgia (11,779), and Wisconsin (20,682), the Electoral College would have been tied at 269 all. The House would have then decided the election. Republicans will hold the majority of state delegations in the new Congress, and they undoubtedly would have chosen Trump. If Trump had also picked up the one electoral vote in Nebraska’s Second Congressional District, which he lost to Biden by 22,091 votes, he would have won the Electoral College outright. Back in 2016, Clinton needed to pick up the right mix of 78,000 votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin to win the Electoral College.
Joe Biden’s team sought out voters with Irish names, particularly the most common hundred names, and ran a campaign that courted them along with the ‘ blue wall ’ of working people without degrees who had not supported Hillary Clinton. Irish Americans represent at least 10% of the population in most states other than the most southern and south-western and 15% of the population in Pennsylvania and the New England states.
During the 1980s I was dealing with sensitive political matters and fortunate enough to be able to consult the State Department’s team of three highly respected professors skilled at interpreting the treasure trove of messages contained within opinion polls. At that time the census figures showed that 17 million people were actual Irish Americans but over 45 million people thought of themselves as Irish Americans. The latter figure today is about 50 million and makes Irish American identity and cultural tone important vote catchers. Consequently it’s easy to see why Joe Biden throughout his political life shrewdly worked on his image as a distant son of the Emerald Isle. What better TV pictures than going there in person. However, when part of this peak time TV news act makes one party to a delicately balanced peace agreement the pantomime villains, serious questions arise. One is his real motive. Another is what’s the evidence that justifies this approach? To understand both answers we need to know how such evidence is gathered beyond the public domain.
Need to know
America and its Five Eyes partners follow very similar formalities when gathering intelligence. The various intelligence agencies are concerned to obtain clear political direction and approval – agreed requirements – before attacking any targets. They may suggest targets but no offensive action should take place without political authority. This avoids an accusation – or the dilemma – that the spies are deciding foreign policy in a secret back room for which only they have the key.
In practice, certainly on this side of the Atlantic, politicians are involved as little as possible directly in this process, largely because of the ‘need to know’ principle. Ministers are not bound by the same disciplines those working at the coal face – we have sworn an oath of allegiance to the sovereign and vowed to obey very clear rules. Those of us who wore a uniform have sworn two such oaths and have a pair of commissions from the Queen.
Recent leaks of highly classified material no doubt will have shocked many in the US agencies not to mention their allies. For our purpose just keep in mind that officials and diplomats – not intelligence officers – must have approved all those hostile and friendly targets. And they would have done so because Joe Biden’s Administration directed them to do so because regard these as diplomatic strategic and tactical requirements.
What kind of intelligence and who are the likely customers?
We know that at least one key adviser on Joe Biden’s politically appointed staff in the White House advises him that Britain is breaking up because we quit the EU. Joe is fully entitled to believe this nonsense even though it shows he suffers the same blind prejudice as Ambassador Joe Kennedy back in 1940. This may prove one of the biggest strategic mistakes of any American President. How many more will he make over another year or even five years? We’ve had a debacle in Afghanistan. While caution is wise when dealing with Russia the recent leaks imply that over-caution on supplying air defence missiles and aircraft could prove a huge error. Does Joe Biden make these decisions?
All nations with the capacity may eavesdrop on foes and friends alike, quite possibly from bases in their allies’ countries, and pass on that information to whoever they conclude ought to know. The Biden Administration may quite likely pass intelligence about us to the EU Commission and Dublin. Whether it’s so wise to pass material to republican politicians is another question. Besides, what’s the problem with normal face to face diplomacy? Joe may even believe the economic blarney in his speeches. His speech to the Dail rather rashly listed – at least that’s my conclusion – his customers for intelligence about the British Government’s next moves over the EU and Northern Ireland.
Any such material likely would include snap shots of discussions among Rishi’s staff at Number Ten and the Cabinet Office. The latter may reflect the FCDO’s rather detached attitude to Northern Ireland over the last fifty years which some of our diplomats appear to regard as a human ticket back into their sacred EU. Joe’s political staff may mistake this for the British people’s approach, which is actually very different, particularly when they suspect their government is breaking down their country into smaller provinces more easily gobbled by the rising German EU empire. That’s not just me with a bee in my bonnet. Read Timothy Garton-Ash in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs.
Joe stressed to the Irish Parliament that the British had not done enough – not surrendered to all EU’s demands – and should co-operate with the Dublin Government and the EU Commission to ease trade across the border and get the Stormont Assembly working. This is a coded way of saying how dare you listen to the Democratic Unionist Party’s perfectly reasonable requests for improvements to the Windsor package.
Joe Biden has Joe Kennedy the third as his personal representative on US investment in Northern Ireland. Joe Kennedy no doubt means well but he spoke at Seagate in Londonderry as though their investment was due to the Belfast Agreement when it happened four years earlier in 1994. Actually, most trade in Northern Ireland is with Great Britain, the rest of the UK. Cross border trade is very much smaller. So Joe Biden’s idea that the Belfast Agreement and the Windsor Framework – EU speak for straitjacket – cannot or must never be modified is nonsense.
If you talk to Irish diplomats and I have often, most are appalled by the idea of forcing a million very angry Protestants into a catholic republic. A recipe for another civil war as one put it. Another said something that I know from the troubles. One hugely popular practical steps along the border is to keep the back lanes open so that Mums in the Republic can do the school run to places like Londonderry. Opinion polls also signal that only 40% of Catholics want to join the Republic, leaving a big majority for keeping the union – and that was a hidden reason behind the violence and bloodshed of the troubles. The republicans knew they could not guarantee to win a democratic vote.
Was this far more costly, roundabout and with little impact on everyday diplomacy?
You bet. Joe stuck to the script in Belfast. Once across the border he soon strayed. Was the ‘ Windsor pub’ for a sly dig at Rishi in a town known as El Paso during the troubles? Selfies with Gerry Adams, remarks aimed at what I would call the wider NORAID audience of the eastern seaboard. Remember as a Senator he fought on behalf of IRA terrorists threatened with extradition. I have long regarded Joe as a Vietnam draft dodger and no friend of the British people even though his genes are probably more Chichester than Cavan at least on his father’s side.
One cannot but wonder at how so much official time and effort went into this campaign to advance the republican cause alongside his own political ambitions. American diplomats are highly professional. They suffer political appointees to a much greater extent than Britain’s. If only a few questions could be put to the officials running the White House who are not political appointees but career diplomats seconded to keep the machine greased and running. I’m most curious to know their views on the following…..
Does the combined wisdom of the Biden Administration really find Scholz, Macron and the EU as a German ruled bloc including neutral Ireland, more reliable allies in a dangerous world than us Brits? Are the Biden Administration collectively blind to the shifting sands of Europe? NATO is now a coalition of the willing. Germany and France pursue other plans while Sweden and Finland want to join for their safety. So does Ukraine. Are the White House looking at the same people as I am?
Again, despite all the efforts of Ben Wallace and his team at the Ministry of Defence, our government’s reluctance to face reality and rebuild our armed forces for a Cold War that’s already running hot does not go down well with Americans – and Irish Americans are well represented in the US armed forces. Why should they take us seriously? Although how on earth Joe takes Germany and France seriously over Ukraine is baffling, indeed alarming. Doesn’t he know about Vorausshau 2040 – the German plan to create an empire outside NATO command, drawn up when Ursula von der Leyen was Defence Minister? The Germans want to take over NATO’s job along with their blue and gold dream of an EU superpower (German ruled) though as a neutral bloc bridging the gap between America and the Russia/China monsters. Macron naively tests the waters for Berlin.
As well as the Ukrainians, who are very grateful to the British people, the Prime Minister of Poland made clear that he does not think much of France and Germany sitting on the fence over Ukraine, desperate to resume business as usual with Russia. Are they encouraged by the Biden Administration’s assessment that we are finished outside the EU which liberal educated America hoped would become a voluntary empire and save them a lot of dollars.
Joe spent sixteen hours in Belfast, half of which he was asleep. Was this the simplest way to avoid those less carefully timed gaffes when he opens his mouth and strays from the written script, or more likely, to reduce the amount of time when his concentration was essential? Joe spent a morning in Belfast followed by the next couple of days on a repeat of JFK’s visit to Ireland sixty years ago. Joe wasn’t on holiday, he was grabbing as much TV time as possible in support of his nomination for 2024.
How about the big bad World beyond Greenore Point?
While Joe was busy campaigning, Saudi Arabia brokered a rapprochement with Iran. This news is the opposite of another ally’s plan for an America, Israel, Saudi Arabia defensive pact to deal with the threat of a nuclear armed Iran. Following the visit of Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov to Sudan last week, Moscow and Khartoum have finalized the terms for establishing a logistical centre for the Russian Navy in Sudan. China seduced the President of Brazil in Joe’s home hemisphere. Then we learned of the young National Guard airman leaking sensitive material to impress his pals – without intending to, he may have done us a favour – the only disaster which Joe actually mentioned during his jaunt.
Does the Biden Administration really think the green dream so important and us British so weak and dependent on the United States that the President may pass three days enjoying random cheap shots against the British at one suspects, carefully planned intervals and locations, all timed for the six o’clock news back home? Should American voters take Joe and Trump seriously as candidates in 2024? Both are pensioners almost my age. Fox News has just paid nearly a billion dollars damages to Dominion Voting Systems – they should send the bill to Trump. Leaving all that aside, the old lion has been smarter than the bald eagle – Rishi is roughly half my age at 42 and I sleep all the better. Was this trip by Joe Biden a good use of your taxes American voters? You deserve answers.
That Special Relationship
Most politicians in America and Britain are not part of it, never will be. You have to wear or have worn a uniform, perhaps been in combat. As you read our two navies are hard at work together below the waves and high above – the two submarine services might as well be one and have just agreed to help Australia join the team. The F35 fighter programme will have the same impact of the surface fleets and both air forces. I don’t know about other former British diplomats but I’ve been a member of our FCDO Association since years and regarded as part of the family by The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training which is the Department of State’s rather clever way of making sure all that experience and knowledge is harvested and used. Every day or so I receive a fascinating email with tales of previous overseas assignments and events from those who took part, some personal friends. I’m honoured to be included.
We Brits should follow the example set by FDR when dealing with Joe Kennedy and simply ignore Joe Biden’s preaching on behalf of Irish republicans and the Germans’ new EU empire. Joe should ask his staff who would be left in charge if France quit? Personally I always regard Bill Clinton as a person worth listening to and who actually brought about the Belfast Agreement – Bill didn’t preach in Belfast, he tried to persuade, face to face in the good old fashioned way – he’s also the only President who took the trouble to send Christmas cards to our home in a small Sussex village, the same county from where Joe’s forebears set off for America.