By Michael D. Mosettig, Former Foreign Editor of PBS News Hour
Bolstered by last week's parliamentary vote authorizing military action in Syria, Britain's Defense Secretary Michael Fallon has been in Washington with a double set of messages:first, his country is back as a key player on the international scene and second, key British allies should not let emotions get in the way of good policy.
Of course, Prime Minister David Cameron and his front bench would argue that Britain never staged a global retreat, which has been the fodder for columnists and retired generals and military analysts assessing and conflating big defense spending cuts between 2010 and 2014 and the House of Commons 2013 vote nixing military action in Syria.
At an appearance at the Atlantic Council and a series of media interviews, Fallon assured American listeners that Britain was standing side by side with the United States and other allies in the fight against ISIL/Daesch terrorists and that it was matching its words with a military buildup.
"We are not just sitting on the sidelines," the minister said.
But at the same time, Fallon tried to put a damper on emotions that are charging politics inside two key allies, the United States and France. Without citing either country by name nor speaking specifically of Donald Trump or Marine Le Pen's comments about Muslims, he said “the allies should do nothing that hands a propaganda coup to Islamic extremists.” He concluded his prepared remarks asserting that western countries should not fall back on the politics of fear or despair.
Fallon described to his Atlantic Council audience some specific elements of a recently completed strategy review including stepped up spending that brings Britain to the target of 2 percent of GDP for defense and creation of expeditionary ground, navy and air forces. Asked why the government is spending more now after years of cuts, he said the country had to get its economic house in order, cutting deficits, as a key element of national security.
"All the pressures came together," he said of the events driving Britain's more muscular policies ---the spread of ISIL from Iraq into Syria, a new Parliament after the 2015 election and the terror attacks in the capital of its closest neighbor.