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Uneasy changing of the guard

Why should Americans care about the UK's Boris Johnson?

Boris Johnson leaves his home in London on

Boris Johnson leaves his home in London on June 13, 2019. Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images/GLYN KIRK

‘If you obey, you will be safe.”

What sounds like a line from a bad pirate movie is real-life audio of an Iranian captain threatening a British captain from after a recent tense encounter in the Persian Gulf. The audio of the capture, released by the maritime security firm Dryad Global, illustrates the difficulty for even the powerful British Navy to protect ships passing the Iranian coast through the Strait of Hormuz. Britain has now threatened Iran with “serious consequences” for seizing the British-flagged oil tanker and announced a plan for European patrol of the seas.

Amid the drama, England has a new prime minister: Boris Johnson — a Trump-like figure promising to make a Brexit deal that would end the United Kingdom’s membership in the European Union. With his conservative party mostly behind the him, Johnson will now arrange a new governing team.

Why should we Americans who love all things British, including TV shows and pub grub, care about politics in the UK?

First. Trade, tariffs and exports within Europe and between America and the continent affect our pocketbooks. U.S. trade with the UK was an estimated $262 billion in 2018, according to U.S. figures, with exports at $141 billion and imports at $121 billion, giving the U.S. a goods-and-services trade surplus of $20 billion in 2018. But Brexit could shrink the British economy and impact the U.S. economy, depending on how the UK’s departure deal is structured before the Oct. 31 deadline.

Second. Iran is taking advantage of a weak West. The United States is politically divided at home — busy with a tweet war raging over Trump’s racist comments about four congresswomen. A transition in power in London is yet another good time for Iran to flex its muscles. (Iran is still seething over sanctions and the fact that President Donald Trump ripped up the 2015 nuclear accord that the United States and European nations reached with Iran to limit its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.) When a major power in Europe is unsettled, extremists everywhere fill the void.

Third. The absence of any coherent strategy on either side the Atlantic is frightening. Without a plan, we could go down a path to crisis in a part of the world that is full of what we all want: energy.

Power means many things, and the changing of the guard is not always festive.

 Tara D. Sonenshine, a former U.S. undersecretary of state, advises students at The George Washington University.

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