“We’re proud of our ability to make a difference to the poorest, the oppressed, the most vulnerable around the world, and we will continue that effort every day of the week. Because that is our calling as a country.”
It was lofty stuff – taking on the mantle of American exceptionalism that President Donald Trump has tossed in the trunk.
But is Britain’s head in the clouds, or can it be a liberal beacon in a populist, realpolitik world?
In practical terms, Raab said, it means backing NATO, standing up to Iran and Russia, defending Hong Kong, splurging on aid, championing free trade and the WTO, and being vociferous on climate change.
Australia will welcome such a strident and muscular proponent of our shared values and the international rule of law (although the climate change issue could become an elephant in the bilateral room as Britain’s hosting of the November UN summit looms).
But just how much muscle will Britain flex? The yang of America’s liberalising mission has always been balanced by the yin of its spasms of isolationism and naked self-interest.
It’s not clear – yet – whether Britain’s post-imperial calling is also tempered by an insular tendency, which arguably found its expression in the 2016 Brexit referendum.
And how much muscle can Britain flex? Well, on paper, plenty: it has the world’s fifth-largest economy and one of the world’s top 10 military forces; it has one of the largest diplomatic networks; and it has lashings of soft power.
But it has the massive distraction of sorting out its post-Brexit relationship with the European Union, and the consequential changes to its trading and other ties with a host of other countries.
Meanwhile, there’s a clamour to prioritise Britain’s fiscal resources on left-behind bits of the homeland, rather than on costly foreign adventurism.
But above all that, modern Britain can’t work alone. The home of Hogwarts has always derived much of its strength from an ability to weave a diplomatic spell in the corridors of Washington and Brussels.
Each of these has the potential to clip a British wing. The Trump administration is unreliable, unpredictable and sometimes truculent. For Britain, Trump’s America is less often a force multiplier than a chaos creator.
The European Union is at this minute more naturally in sync with Raab’s vision, but the search for a post-Brexit settlement injects a dynamic of distraction and disruption into the relationship.
And right now both behemoths are keenly scrutinising how Britain defines itself, how it lines up.
On Iran, it has stuck with the Europeans. On Sunday, a joint statement from London, Paris and Berlin took Washington to task, at least by diplomatic standards.
“Together we have made clear our regret and concern at the decision by the United States” to withdraw from the nuclear deal with Iran, they said. “Despite increasingly difficult circumstances, we have worked hard to preserve the agreement.”
This hasn’t gone unnoticed in Washington. So it’s probably unsurprisingly that Johnson is reportedly going to make a trip to the White House very soon.
Britain used to portray itself as a bridge between the US and Europe. There’s some risk it may end up being more of a see-saw.