Commentary Magazine


Topic: Daniel Hannan

Obama’s Low Regard for British Democracy

You might think that the Obama administration, having declined to support British sovereignty over the Falkland Islands on numerous occasions (with Obama even attempting, but comically failing, to call the islands by their Argentine name), that this administration has taken enough potshots at the UK. This impression is only reinforced when you consider the White House’s absurd and dishonest shenanigans over its removal of the bust of Winston Churchill.

But the administration is signaling that its second term will, in its low regard for British sovereignty, look and sound a lot like the first term. From today’s New York Times:

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You might think that the Obama administration, having declined to support British sovereignty over the Falkland Islands on numerous occasions (with Obama even attempting, but comically failing, to call the islands by their Argentine name), that this administration has taken enough potshots at the UK. This impression is only reinforced when you consider the White House’s absurd and dishonest shenanigans over its removal of the bust of Winston Churchill.

But the administration is signaling that its second term will, in its low regard for British sovereignty, look and sound a lot like the first term. From today’s New York Times:

The United States entered Britain’s debate over its relationship with the European Union on Wednesday, when a senior diplomat implicitly warned the British government not to do anything that might endanger its membership in the 27-nation union.

The comments, made in London by Philip Gordon, the assistant secretary of state for Europe, echo sentiments expressed by a number of European officials. But they are likely to have a bigger impact in Britain because of the closeness of its ties to Washington, a point of pride in London.

The timing of the rare public intervention is also significant, coming shortly before a long-awaited speech by Prime Minister David Cameron in which he intends to lay out plans for a redefinition of Britain’s relationship with the European Union.

Tory minister Daniel Hannan, a leading Euroskeptic who warns of the EU’s penchant for eroding democracy and individual rights, offered the appropriate response: “Of all the bad arguments for being in the EU, the worst is to humour Barack Obama.”

There is a fair amount of chutzpah in the administration’s request. At the outset, it should be noted that President Obama is learning that he can apply the lessons of his failures elsewhere to a broad range of circumstances. Though it took him four years, Obama has learned, for example, that he has more leverage over the Israeli government when he decreases the daylight between the two allies, thereby increasing his approval and legitimacy of purpose among the populace there. He might want to consider that episode’s relevance to Europe, where he would have more leverage if he hadn’t spent four years pushing our allies away.

Having insulted Britain’s government repeatedly, he is low on credibility; incompetence has its consequences. Then there is the issue of the wisdom, or lack thereof, of the administration’s advice, quite apart from whether it has the credibility to offer it. The speech Cameron is expected to give likely will include a proposal for a “looser” arrangement between the EU and Britain. Cameron may even promise to hold a public referendum on the changes. This–the practice known as “democracy”–seems to be what the State Department official Gordon feared most, warning Cameron that such public votes on the EU “have sometimes turned countries inward.”

This is an implicit acknowledgement that the people don’t much like the EU. The Obama administration is thus worried that the people will have a say in the affairs of their country, and that the people of Britain will express an opinion at odds with what Barack Obama thinks they should think (imagine that). Is the United States now in the business of explicitly warning Western Europe not to practice democracy? Has the Obama administration given much thought to the great many ways this could backfire?

Hannan offers some history, and explains just why the Obama administration’s request is a lot to ask of its ally:

After the end of the Cold War, the Brussels élites started picking fights with what they called the world’s hyperpuissance. They channelled funds to Hamas, declined to get tough with the ayatollahs in Teheran, declared their willingness in principle to sell weapons to China, refused to deal with the anti-Castro dissidents in Cuba, started building a satellite system with the Chinese to challenge American ‘technological imperialism’ (J Chirac), hectored the US about its failure to join various global technocracies and complained about domestic American policies, from cheap energy to the use of the death penalty. Most Americans, even some in the State Department, have started to grasp, Frankenstein-like, that the EU is turning against them. So now they want the most pro-American member state, namely the United Kingdom, to get stuck in and moderate these anti-yanqui tendencies. Would we mind abandoning our democracy so as to help them out?

They certainly should mind, and ought to push back against this sort of nonsense from the Obama administration. Neither American nor British interests are well served by quashing the democratic impulse and chaining countries to a failing project like the EU.

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The EU’s Pursuit of Stability Über Alles

At City Journal, the invaluable Theodore Dalrymple reviews the equally invaluable Dan Hannan’s A Doomed Marriage: Britain and Europe, and predicts pessimistically that it will change few minds about the EU, since “in the Eurocrats’ world, ignoring arguments is the highest form of refutation.” By way of explaining why the EU has a stranglehold on elite opinion, Dalrymple argues that the EU is good at corrupting business with the promise of controlled markets, politicians with perks far beyond their merits, and civil society with bribes.

All that is true, but not true enough. In Britain, the EU appeals to the elite in part because of the myth of leadership, i.e. the belief that, if only it rolls up its sleeves, Britain will be able to lead the EU in a direction that suits its desires. This is the myth that lies behind the so-called lost opportunity of Britain’s failure to sign the original Treaty of Rome, and it has inspired politicians as diverse as Harold Macmillan and Tony Blair to toss their chips in with Brussels. In reality, the reason why Britain did not sign on was because its interests and ideals led it to prefer different arrangements, and the past 50 years have proven comprehensively that the EU imposes far more on Britain than Britain is able to impose on the EU. Yet the myth lingers.

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At City Journal, the invaluable Theodore Dalrymple reviews the equally invaluable Dan Hannan’s A Doomed Marriage: Britain and Europe, and predicts pessimistically that it will change few minds about the EU, since “in the Eurocrats’ world, ignoring arguments is the highest form of refutation.” By way of explaining why the EU has a stranglehold on elite opinion, Dalrymple argues that the EU is good at corrupting business with the promise of controlled markets, politicians with perks far beyond their merits, and civil society with bribes.

All that is true, but not true enough. In Britain, the EU appeals to the elite in part because of the myth of leadership, i.e. the belief that, if only it rolls up its sleeves, Britain will be able to lead the EU in a direction that suits its desires. This is the myth that lies behind the so-called lost opportunity of Britain’s failure to sign the original Treaty of Rome, and it has inspired politicians as diverse as Harold Macmillan and Tony Blair to toss their chips in with Brussels. In reality, the reason why Britain did not sign on was because its interests and ideals led it to prefer different arrangements, and the past 50 years have proven comprehensively that the EU imposes far more on Britain than Britain is able to impose on the EU. Yet the myth lingers.

But the larger reason why the European elite like the EU is simple. From their point of view, Europe tried democracy in the first half of the twentieth century. The result was two world wars, the near-collapse of European civilization, and the rise to superpower status of the U.S.S.R. and (even worse, for many of them) the U.S.

Blaming democracy for the Kaiser and Hitler is poor history, but–as Ben pointed out last week–European voters, unlike British and American ones, do have a predilection for political extremism when times get rough. That’s what comes of not having conservative movements in the Anglo-American tradition of individual liberty. It’s also why Europeans always expect fascism to dawn in the U.S.: they’re looking in the mirror.

The idea behind the EEC, from its start, was to prevent wars, reassert European power, and promote economic growth by removing decisions about portions of the economy from the exclusive control of the nation-state, i.e., from the control of the voters. It was an explicitly elite approach. Add to that the fact that the EU has allowed the image if not the reality of national parliaments to survive–with most laws now made in Brussels, Gladstone would not recognize the House of Commons, even if it still sits in Westminster–and the appeal the EU has long had to France as a way to assert its political superiority over an economically potent Germany, and one does not need to appeal to corruption to explain the EU’s appeal to the powers that be.

But the EU turned from an instrument for restoring a degree of stability to one dedicated to the preservation of the status quo. That approach–and Dalrymple is absolutely right about this–is bound to fail. It means the EU, which still talks a lot about increasing Europe’s power in the world, is more interested in pursuing policies which guarantee Europe’s continued relative decline. It also means that the reality of German dominance of the EU–politics win in the short run, but economics win in the long haul–is becoming ever more obvious to most Europeans, which is one reason why the EU is less popular now than ever. When the Germans take full account of how rapidly they are sinking into the same debt morass that afflicts their profligate neighbors in and out of the euro, they too may well decide that their elites (and their Constitutional Court) have made a hash of it.

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Human Rights Watch: The World Needs More Corrupt and Politicized “International Justice”

Predictable, of course. Clive Baldwin, a “senior legal adviser” to HRW, finds it “most embarrassing of all” that the British attorney general “gave a speech in Jerusalem on 5 January declaring that the government was ‘determined that Israel’s leaders should always be able to travel freely to the UK.’”

Can’t have that, can we?

This really isn’t about international justice, of course. It’s about the desire of many human-rights activists — today they unfortunately are almost exclusively drawn from the far Left — for more political power. Here’s how the international justice game is played:

Groups like HRW rely on fraudulent or biased testimony in Gaza and Lebanon (or Iraq) combined with creative interpretations of the “laws of war” to produce claims of war crimes; these claims are received as legitimate and trustworthy in UN bodies, among allied NGOs, and in the international press; activist lawyers use the now-laundered allegations to file universal jurisdiction lawsuits with sympathetic British judges; arrest warrants are issued. But then government officials recognize the awful reality of this politicized little merry-go-round and speak out against the practice — prompting HRW to protest that politicians are interfering in the independence of the court system. Chutzpah.

There are at least a few people left in the UK who understand the perniciousness of “universal jurisdiction.” One is MP Daniel Hannan, who wrote a terse seven-point refutation of the idea yesterday (h/t Andrew Stuttaford):

1. Territorial jurisdiction has been a remarkably successful concept. Ever since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, it has been broadly understood that crimes are the responsibility of the state where they are committed. … Western liberals might say: “Since Karadzic won’t get justice in Serbia, he should get it at The Hague.” But an Iranian judge might apply precisely the same logic and say: “Adulterers in Western countries are going unpunished: we must kidnap them and bring them to a place where they will face consequences”. …

2. International jurisdiction breaks the link between legislators and law. Instead of legislation being passed by representatives who are, in some way, accountable to their populations, laws are generated by international jurists. …

7. The politicisation of international jurisprudence seems always to come from the same direction: a writ was served against Ariel Sharon, but not against Yasser Arafat. Augusto Pinochet was arrested, but Fidel Castro could attend international summits. Donald Rumsfeld was indicted in Europe, but not Saddam Hussein.

What you’ll always find about the international-justice hustle is that its proponents never explain how these fatal problems can be resolved. In this case, the problems, of course, are the solutions. That’s because universal jurisdiction isn’t about justice. It’s about power.

Predictable, of course. Clive Baldwin, a “senior legal adviser” to HRW, finds it “most embarrassing of all” that the British attorney general “gave a speech in Jerusalem on 5 January declaring that the government was ‘determined that Israel’s leaders should always be able to travel freely to the UK.’”

Can’t have that, can we?

This really isn’t about international justice, of course. It’s about the desire of many human-rights activists — today they unfortunately are almost exclusively drawn from the far Left — for more political power. Here’s how the international justice game is played:

Groups like HRW rely on fraudulent or biased testimony in Gaza and Lebanon (or Iraq) combined with creative interpretations of the “laws of war” to produce claims of war crimes; these claims are received as legitimate and trustworthy in UN bodies, among allied NGOs, and in the international press; activist lawyers use the now-laundered allegations to file universal jurisdiction lawsuits with sympathetic British judges; arrest warrants are issued. But then government officials recognize the awful reality of this politicized little merry-go-round and speak out against the practice — prompting HRW to protest that politicians are interfering in the independence of the court system. Chutzpah.

There are at least a few people left in the UK who understand the perniciousness of “universal jurisdiction.” One is MP Daniel Hannan, who wrote a terse seven-point refutation of the idea yesterday (h/t Andrew Stuttaford):

1. Territorial jurisdiction has been a remarkably successful concept. Ever since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, it has been broadly understood that crimes are the responsibility of the state where they are committed. … Western liberals might say: “Since Karadzic won’t get justice in Serbia, he should get it at The Hague.” But an Iranian judge might apply precisely the same logic and say: “Adulterers in Western countries are going unpunished: we must kidnap them and bring them to a place where they will face consequences”. …

2. International jurisdiction breaks the link between legislators and law. Instead of legislation being passed by representatives who are, in some way, accountable to their populations, laws are generated by international jurists. …

7. The politicisation of international jurisprudence seems always to come from the same direction: a writ was served against Ariel Sharon, but not against Yasser Arafat. Augusto Pinochet was arrested, but Fidel Castro could attend international summits. Donald Rumsfeld was indicted in Europe, but not Saddam Hussein.

What you’ll always find about the international-justice hustle is that its proponents never explain how these fatal problems can be resolved. In this case, the problems, of course, are the solutions. That’s because universal jurisdiction isn’t about justice. It’s about power.

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