Commentary Magazine


Topic: David Cameron

The UK Holds Together, but at What Cost?

Britain has averted further Balkanization. After a fraught referendum on Scottish independence, the preservation of the United Kingdom is undoubtedly a welcomed outcome, yet it is far from a happy one. Even with Scotland voting to remain in the union, the longer-term impact of this vote remains uncertain. There is no escaping the bad feelings and old ghosts that this referendum has roused. Nor has the way been cleared for a strengthening of the union. In what appeared to many like a fit of panic and desperation, Britain’s prime minister promised Scots that even in the event of a “no” vote he would still transfer yet more powers from Westminster to Hollyrood. The campaign against independence championed the slogan “better together,” but in reality Scots and everyone else in the United Kingdom look set to get still further apart.

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Britain has averted further Balkanization. After a fraught referendum on Scottish independence, the preservation of the United Kingdom is undoubtedly a welcomed outcome, yet it is far from a happy one. Even with Scotland voting to remain in the union, the longer-term impact of this vote remains uncertain. There is no escaping the bad feelings and old ghosts that this referendum has roused. Nor has the way been cleared for a strengthening of the union. In what appeared to many like a fit of panic and desperation, Britain’s prime minister promised Scots that even in the event of a “no” vote he would still transfer yet more powers from Westminster to Hollyrood. The campaign against independence championed the slogan “better together,” but in reality Scots and everyone else in the United Kingdom look set to get still further apart.

The vote was always anticipated to be close. As it was 55 percent voted to stay and 45 percent chose secession. Whatever the outcome, there was either going to be a newly independent Scotland that was deeply divided against itself or, as is now the case, the preservation of a nation that many people in Scotland have made clear they don’t wish to be part of. That can’t go unnoticed, not least among the English. They perhaps can be forgiven for feeling somewhat disgruntled that considerable numbers of their compatriots wanted out; many with a passion. Accordingly, there were even signs of a contrarian splinter movement emerging—mostly among conservative pundits—who claimed to welcome a Scotland-free UK. They insisted that parting with so many Labor voters and economically depressed areas would only be cause for celebration.

The referendum also reminded the vast majority of citizens that they get a raw deal out of devolution, and that it’s only going to get rawer. Not only do Scots get their own separate government and parliament, but the representatives they send to Westminster are permitted to vote on laws even when they only pertain to England. And in addition to this double representation, Brits living elsewhere in the union must envy that their taxes go toward subsidizing free university education for all Scots, higher pensions, and higher levels of healthcare spending that they themselves don’t get to enjoy south of the border.

While a small clique of conservatives wanted to see the Scots go, far more will be furious that Cameron has promised to devolve yet more powers to Scotland in what looked like a rather unbecoming act of bribery. One can’t help but wonder if this whole problem might be eased by having a little less devolution, not more. After all, had devolution never been instituted at the end of the 1990s, it is hard to imagine that the appetite for independence ever would have grown nearly as strong as it is today.

There is no getting around the fact that having devolution to some parts of the United Kingdom but not others creates a rather topsy-turvy, and indeed unjust, constitutional reality. And although the British may claim to be proud of their uncodified and ever-evolving constitution, the current arrangement can hardly be regarded as satisfactory. In all probability devolution won’t be undone. Not only would many in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland resent handing back powers, but devolution necessitated the formation of several new political classes serving in the additional parliaments and civil services. And third rate as these regional elites no doubt are, they are in no rush to abdicate those well salaried positions. Indeed, during the recent push for independence, you could see them eying the prospect of ambassadorships the world over.

Perhaps eventually the English will demand a parliament of their own too and the UK will formerly embrace federalism. Some have speculated that Englishness has experienced a boost from the rampant petty nationalisms flourishing in Scotland and Wales. On the other hand, the British may just learn to live with this constitutional dissonance. They already have plenty; a farcically overcrowded House of Commons, a still unelected but now essentially powerless House of Lords, and a Monarch who presides over—and yet has no say over—a national church that most citizens don’t belong to or believe in. One wonders if even James Madison could untangle this little lot. But if Scotland is going to stay, then some solutions will need to be found, because right now there’s plenty of bad feeling, and few obvious ways in which to manage any of it.

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How the Left Pushed Scotland Toward Independence

At first the Scottish referendum was regarded as a bit of a joke. It was being called, if anything, to put the matter to bed. Yet in recent days the first polls have emerged suggesting that the number of Scots preparing to vote for secession may have just surpassed those wishing to remain in the union. This has caused a sudden sense of panic in Westminster. Some have already called on Prime Minister David Cameron to resign, or at least call an election, should Scotland vote to exit the United Kingdom. Even Henry Kissinger has weighed in and voiced his opposition to Britain “getting any smaller.” But the truth is that, very suddenly, the UK looks dangerously close to splitting in two.

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At first the Scottish referendum was regarded as a bit of a joke. It was being called, if anything, to put the matter to bed. Yet in recent days the first polls have emerged suggesting that the number of Scots preparing to vote for secession may have just surpassed those wishing to remain in the union. This has caused a sudden sense of panic in Westminster. Some have already called on Prime Minister David Cameron to resign, or at least call an election, should Scotland vote to exit the United Kingdom. Even Henry Kissinger has weighed in and voiced his opposition to Britain “getting any smaller.” But the truth is that, very suddenly, the UK looks dangerously close to splitting in two.

David Cameron insists that he is a staunch defender of the union. Yet, as many have pointed out, losing Scotland wouldn’t be all bad for someone of Cameron’s outlook. For one thing, no Scotland could well mean no more Labor governments for the foreseeable future. All of the close elections won by Labor would have gone to the Conservatives had the Scottish vote been discounted. Then there’s the fact that, when it comes to public services, Scotland takes out far more from the national budget than it contributes. Lastly, while Scotland is more pro-European than England, should Scotland leave, it is hard to imagine the remnants of the United Kingdom having the appetite for going it alone and leaving the EU as well, something which Cameron also opposes.

In many ways Scottish independence looks almost insane. Geographically, culturally, and politically Scotland is a big part of Britain. But in reality there are less than five and a half million people living there—the UK has far more Londoners than Scots. An independent Scotland would have to renegotiate countless international treaties, including membership of the European Union. Brussels has made clear that this would require Scotland to adopt the euro. Naturally, the Scots want no such thing. But the problem is Westminster is insisting that the continuation of fiscal union wouldn’t be an option. Economists and big business alike have warned Scotland that independence would be economically disastrous. Many corporations are threatening to move south of border. But even assuming the economy didn’t take a hit, Scotland faces a massive deficit regarding what it spends on public services and what it could realistically raise in tax revenues. Scottish nationalists claim they will plug the gap with profits from North Sea oil and gas, but it’s a fantasy to think that Scotland is going to survive as some kind of Gulf state on the North Atlantic.

Really, Scots have never had it so good. Since the end of the 1990s Scotland has been self-governing with its own parliament and government. This means that not only is England subsidizing Scottish public services, but Scots get twice as much political representation. Indeed, ever since devolution to Scotland, Scottish MPs in Westminster still vote on all British matters, but they have also been able to vote on laws only effecting England and Wales. Nor should they forget that Britain’s last prime minister, Gordon Brown, was Scottish.

Yet devolution actually appears to have exacerbated, and not calmed, the Scottish thirst for increasing autonomy. And to understand that thirst you have to go back to Tony Blair’s first government, when New Labor was in ascendancy. Because devolution, for both Scotland and Wales, was very much a policy of New Labor at its most radical. For many involved in that revolution, breaking the UK down into its component parts, paralleled with rapid integration into the EU, was supposed to achieve nothing less than the eradication of Britain as we’ve always known it. Of course, the kind of flag waving, Balkansesque micro-nationalism being encouraged in Scotland and Wales hardly looks in keeping with the progressive post-nationalism of the EU. Yet, in a sense, Scottish and Welsh nationalism was just another aspect of the identity politics championed as part of New Labor’s heady multiculturalism.

By the late 1990s, what you really didn’t want to be was British. Britain was Empire, militarism, backwardness, and bigotry. The first years of New Labor saw a wave of outlawing of traditional British customs. Fox hunting, children’s Punch and Judy puppet shows, and–in certain cities–even Christian imagery in Christmas decorations all went. On the other hand, there was nothing more coveted than having an “alternative” identity. Just as immigrant communities were encouraged to explore their heritage, so in Scotland and Wales, alongside the glistening new Parliament buildings, a cottage industry developed of books and television programs celebrating Scottish and Welsh history. Equally, there was a renewed emphasis on reviving Gaelic languages, particularly in schools.

No doubt there is a human need for identity and belonging. A sense of being part of something ancient enough to be beyond the merely mortal. The left in Britain has systematically eroded British identity and so it is hardly surprising that people have sought alternatives. British Muslims have become more Islamic, just as Scots have become more Scottish. Reacting with alarm, conservative writers and politicians have declared the antidote is for Britons to regain belief in the greatness of their country. The problem is they advocate this as if it is simply something that other people should believe, and more to the point, a generation has been raised to regard such attitudes as parochial and primitive.

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Will Hostage Bring Cameron into the War?

Refusing to pay ransoms to terrorists has the virtue of being both morally laudable and strategically expedient. However, governments that refuse to negotiate with terrorists are generally obliged to take some alternative course of action instead–such as to combat and defeat them. British Prime Minister David Cameron has employed some staunch rhetoric against ISIS’s advance, much of it far more rousing than that of President Obama, who generally sounds as if he is discussing a matter with all the urgency of mass transit whenever he is forced to speak on the subject. Still, Cameron is yet to join the United States in its airstrikes against the Islamists. And with a British hostage now apparently next in line on ISIS’s macabre list of beheadings, there is a renewed pressure for Cameron to match his strong words with some equally strong actions.

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Refusing to pay ransoms to terrorists has the virtue of being both morally laudable and strategically expedient. However, governments that refuse to negotiate with terrorists are generally obliged to take some alternative course of action instead–such as to combat and defeat them. British Prime Minister David Cameron has employed some staunch rhetoric against ISIS’s advance, much of it far more rousing than that of President Obama, who generally sounds as if he is discussing a matter with all the urgency of mass transit whenever he is forced to speak on the subject. Still, Cameron is yet to join the United States in its airstrikes against the Islamists. And with a British hostage now apparently next in line on ISIS’s macabre list of beheadings, there is a renewed pressure for Cameron to match his strong words with some equally strong actions.

There are of course those in Britain who would want to see Cameron pursue the same course of action as has been adopted by the countries of mainland Europe. French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Danish hostages were all held by militants in Iraq and Syria and are all now free after their ransoms were paid. But in surrendering to the terrorists’ demands Western governments are in a sense both funding terrorism and putting more of their citizens around the world at risk by incentivizing their kidnapping.

The French attitude to hostage taking makes the point pretty clearly. Despite the fact that the payment of ransoms for French hostages is generally undertaken through state owned companies rather than by the government directly–so as to permit French politicians to make the unconvincing claim that they are absolved from the whole sordid affair–the effect is still entirely the same. Indeed, it has been estimated that France has now paid over $57 million to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in return for the release of hostages. For their trouble France has succeeded in making its citizens the most desirable people in the world to kidnap and last year it is thought that more French nationals were taken hostage than those from any other country in the world.

Of course as well as funds, terrorists also often demand the release of prisoners. But by letting hardened terrorists go free, Western governments are essentially just returning combatants to the field and replenishing the ranks of terrorist groups. Furthermore, in countries where the most severe punishment on the books is imprisonment, the release of these prisoners renders terrorism a crime without penalty. During the 1970s the PLO and associated groups became particularly adept at using hostage taking for this very purpose. They knew that European countries were the weak link here and of the 204 terrorists convicted outside of the Middle East between 1968 and 1975, only three were still in prison by the end of that period.

So David Cameron’s refusal to follow his European counterparts down the ransom paying rabbit hole is indeed both sensible and admirable. Yet, if he is not going to free British hostages by negotiating with their captors then he must explain what he intends to do instead. Nor can he maintain the rhetoric of moral opprobrium against ISIS with any kind of credibility if he still refuses to take real action. If British government officials want to label ISIS as “evil” then that is fine–just so long as they know that doing so will quickly render their current policy morally indefensible.

Up until now, Britain has met the ISIS threat with what appears to have been a defense strategy devised by Quakers. A team is being put together to document ISIS war crimes so that these people might one day be put on trial, while the British air force recently took to the skies over mount Sinjar to drop bottles water to the sheltering Yazidis down below. Yet in the end it was only ever going to be the kind of airstrikes employed by the United States that would save the Yazidis from the ISIS militants seeking to perpetrate genocide against them. As it is, Obama’s strategy may well prove to be too little, too late. But as things stand, for all his tough talk, Cameron has only managed less than that.

With regard to freeing the British hostage, Cameron’s government now insists that all options are being considered. Yet under present circumstances a rescue operation looks unlikely. Cameron’s former secretary of defense, Liam Fox, has however very publicly called on Britain to join the U.S. in its airstrikes. There are the first tentative signs that the British government may be coming round to this idea. But for the moment, Cameron is stalling, talking about building a broad coalition, one which he insists must include non-Western nations as well–though with news about the existence of a British hostage now being made public, there are the first stirrings of popular pressure for “something to be done.”

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UK Arms and the War on the Jews

The rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe has been harder to ignore in the last month. The war in Gaza has given a green light for Jew haters to take to the streets of the continent’s cities to vent their spleen at Israel’s efforts to defend itself against Islamists intent on genocide. But the decision of Britain’s government to threaten the Jewish state with a ban on arms sales shows just how far the discussion about the Middle East conflict has been perverted by prejudice.

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The rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe has been harder to ignore in the last month. The war in Gaza has given a green light for Jew haters to take to the streets of the continent’s cities to vent their spleen at Israel’s efforts to defend itself against Islamists intent on genocide. But the decision of Britain’s government to threaten the Jewish state with a ban on arms sales shows just how far the discussion about the Middle East conflict has been perverted by prejudice.

The announcement that the UK would suspend arms exports to Israel if the fighting in Gaza were to resume is a victory for the Liberal Democratic members of Britain’s coalition government over its Conservative majority. Tory Prime Minister David Cameron has not always been the most stalwart friend of Israel during his term of office but he has stood up for Israel’s right of self-defense after Hamas launched a new war in which it rained down thousands of rockets on Israeli cities and used terror tunnels to breach the border. But his allies in Westminster are hardened foes of Israel and, aided by the pressure generated by massive anti-Israel demonstrations, have worn down Cameron.

The advocates of this semi-embargo claim it is nothing more than an assertion of British neutrality in the conflict. The fact that they have not included the sale of components of the Iron Dome missile defense system purchased in Britain is also seen as a gesture indicating their good will toward Israel even as they push for a cessation of hostilities.

But the notion that Western democracies ought to be neutral in a battle between the one genuine democracy in the Middle East as well as the lone embattled Jewish state and a vicious Islamist dictatorship whose goal is to destroy Israel is indefensible. In effect, the British are saying that while they are not opposed to the Israelis using technology to shoot down rockets fired at Gaza, they believe that the Jewish state should do nothing to prevent those missiles from being shot at their airspace or to stop Hamas from digging tunnels they can use to cross over into Israel and carry out terrorist atrocities.

The point of this British pressure is not just to hamper the Israel Defense Forces’ efforts to seek out and destroy Hamas missile launches or terror centers. The purpose of the gesture is to add to the growing campaign of international pressure that seeks to force Israel to make concessions to Hamas in order to prevent further fighting. Though Hamas has repeatedly turned down and broken ceasefires and the entire war was fought largely at the insistence of the Islamist group, the onus for ending this round of fighting is largely being placed on Israel.

But the proposed concessions, such as the freeing of terrorist prisoners or an end to the blockade of Gaza that makes it more difficult for the Islamists to gain new supplies of arms, rockets, and materials used to fortify the strip, are hardly neutral. If Israel is forced to give in, the result would be to further empower Hamas and to reward terrorism. That would only hasten the inevitable next round of fighting.

It should be understood that any embargo on Israel would not be matched by a ban on arms sales or funding for Hamas from its sponsors in Turkey and Qatar. Those concessions will also make it easier for Hamas to rearm and to import the materials it uses to both protect its arsenal, leaders and fighters (though not the people of Gaza) and to build new tunnels from which they hope to send terrorists to kill Jews.

How would the Brits have treated a decision on the part of the United States in 1940 to approve the sale of anti-aircraft guns to the one nation standing alone against the Nazis, but not other armaments designed to take the fight to Germany? The fact that it doesn’t seem to occur to anyone in the British government that such an analogy is spot on speaks volumes about the level of prejudice against Israel.

Seen in that light, it’s clear that European neutrality is not only not very neutral, but also a shot in the arm for Hamas in its war against Israel. At a time when anti-Semitic invective that is sometimes presented as thinly veiled anti-Zionism is becoming part of mainstream culture in Europe, Britain’s decision to treat Israel’s efforts to defend itself against terrorism as beyond the pale is deeply troubling.

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Britain’s Latest Rebuke to Putin Is Personal

When President Obama made a statement Friday on the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight 17 by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, he took a rhetorical step forward in blaming Russia. More than once, he used the phrase “Russian-backed separatists.” Though he did not announce any new sanctions at the time, he could be given a pass; the shooting down of the plane was relatively recent still, and he’d presumably need to consult not only with his own National Security Council and Cabinet but with several European leaders before new action could be taken.

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When President Obama made a statement Friday on the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight 17 by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, he took a rhetorical step forward in blaming Russia. More than once, he used the phrase “Russian-backed separatists.” Though he did not announce any new sanctions at the time, he could be given a pass; the shooting down of the plane was relatively recent still, and he’d presumably need to consult not only with his own National Security Council and Cabinet but with several European leaders before new action could be taken.

But then nothing happened, and for some reason Obama went back out Monday and gave another, quite similar statement, imploring Vladimir Putin to cooperate. It was unclear why the president saw fit to give a second statement at all if not to announce new punitive action toward Russia. We already knew he (correctly) blamed Putin; repeating it without action only calls attention to the lack of action.

Which is what makes today’s announcement by Britain’s government at first welcome, but also a bit puzzling. The Wall Street Journal reports that European countries have tightened sanctions on Russia, but Britain is going a step farther: the British government has ordered a full investigation into the 2006 poisoning of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London, presumably by Russian agents:

Litvinenko’s excruciating death and Russia’s refusal to extradite the chief suspect, a career Russian security officer, plunged relations between London and the Kremlin to a post-Cold War low from which they have yet to fully recover.

Last July the government refused to open an inquiry, which promises to go further than the initial inquest by looking into who was to blame, with Mrs. May saying international relations had been a factor in the decision. But in February the High Court ordered the Home Secretary to review her decision following a challenge by Marina Litvinenko, the widow of the former agent of Russia’s FSB agency.

The British government had thus far opposed the kind of formal inquiry that would include classified information. Prime Minister David Cameron says the timing of the decision is purely coincidental, of course.

Litvinenko was a critic of the FSB, the successor agency to the KGB. Putin ran the FSB before becoming Boris Yeltsin’s prime minister and then president. Litvinenko’s criticism of Putin was about more than just corruption, however. He alleged that Putin was behind the series of domestic apartment bombings in 1999 that were blamed on Chechen terrorists and used, in part, as a casus belli for the Second Chechen War. Putin’s direction of that war probably sealed his victory as president in 2000, so the accusation undercuts Putin’s legitimacy and suggests his entire public career was a lie–meaning Putin was never anything more than a fraud and a terrorist.

People who said such things about Putin tended to have reduced life expectancy. In November 2006, a month after investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya was assassinated, Litvinenko was poisoned using the radioactive substance polonium-210 in London. The trail of evidence led to another former Russian KGB agent, who Putin refuses to extradite. In an effort to stay on Putin’s good side, Cameron has not pressed the issue, but now appears to have had a change of heart. Opening the files for a thorough investigation, however, was never without some risk, as the New York Times explains:

Plans to hold an inquest led by a senior judge, Sir Robert Owen, were dropped after the British Foreign Office invoked national security interests to prevent the inquest from even considering whether Moscow had played a part in the killing or whether British intelligence could have prevented it.

The judge said last year that the restrictions made it impossible to hold a “fair and fearless” inquest, and he urged the establishment of a public inquiry that would be empowered to hold closed-door sessions about possible involvement by the Kremlin or MI6, the British overseas intelligence agency. Ms. Litvinenko has said her husband was a paid agent of MI6 at the time he was killed. He and his family had been granted British citizenship weeks before his death.

It’s doubtful Cameron would be unaware of the sealed intel or that he would embarrass the UK just to take a jab at Putin. So it seems as though Cameron was, indeed, waiting for the right time to play this card.

Which raises the following question. If and when this inquest concludes that Moscow was behind this egregious violation of British sovereignty and security, what would Cameron do? Litvinenko was a British citizen, murdered on British soil, presumably at the direction of the Kremlin. If that’s confirmed, people will expect more than pointing fingers. Western leaders’ habit of honestly and openly blaming Putin for his misdeeds is halfway there. It’s the other half–the actions that follow the words–that people get tired of waiting for.

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Hashtag Diplomacy Jumps the Shark

The Obama administration’s “hashtag diplomacy” has been under criticism for some time, though condemnation of its participation in the campaign to rescue the girls kidnapped by Nigeria’s Islamist terror group Boko Haram–tweeting messages along with the tag #BringBackOurGirls–was especially voluble this weekend. I agree with Jonathan on First Lady Michelle Obama’s decision to join the hashtag campaign: it’s harmless; she’s a political celebrity without the power to do more than speak out anyway; and while she certainly can simply tell her husband to “bring back our girls” in private, doing so publicly is more meaningful, and possibly more effective.

However, it is decidedly not harmless when a Western leader who really can order troops decides his or her contribution will be to play a hashtag game. I’m looking at you, British Prime Minister David Cameron, head of the government while representing the party once led by Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. In fairness to Cameron, he was on a television talk show when another guest, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, asked him if he’d like to hold the sign and mug for the cameras. I’m not sure how it would have looked if he’d said no. At the same time, he shows no understanding of just how silly it looks to have a Western leader join this campaign, which should be reserved for those who can’t do more than make a sad face and throw up their hands.

Just who is Cameron telling to “bring back our girls”? The terrified parents of these children are certainly getting the impression that they’re on their own, as the New York Times reports:

Desperate parents have entered the forest themselves, armed only with bows and arrows. Officials say the military is searching there but there have been no results so far.

So parents have in some cases taken bows and arrows into enemy terrain to hunt for their children, because the guys commanding the most powerful and technologically advanced armies in the world are holding up cardboard signs and looking glumly into the camera, as if Boko Haram will be moved to charity by the ostentatiously pathetic nature of it all.

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The Obama administration’s “hashtag diplomacy” has been under criticism for some time, though condemnation of its participation in the campaign to rescue the girls kidnapped by Nigeria’s Islamist terror group Boko Haram–tweeting messages along with the tag #BringBackOurGirls–was especially voluble this weekend. I agree with Jonathan on First Lady Michelle Obama’s decision to join the hashtag campaign: it’s harmless; she’s a political celebrity without the power to do more than speak out anyway; and while she certainly can simply tell her husband to “bring back our girls” in private, doing so publicly is more meaningful, and possibly more effective.

However, it is decidedly not harmless when a Western leader who really can order troops decides his or her contribution will be to play a hashtag game. I’m looking at you, British Prime Minister David Cameron, head of the government while representing the party once led by Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. In fairness to Cameron, he was on a television talk show when another guest, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, asked him if he’d like to hold the sign and mug for the cameras. I’m not sure how it would have looked if he’d said no. At the same time, he shows no understanding of just how silly it looks to have a Western leader join this campaign, which should be reserved for those who can’t do more than make a sad face and throw up their hands.

Just who is Cameron telling to “bring back our girls”? The terrified parents of these children are certainly getting the impression that they’re on their own, as the New York Times reports:

Desperate parents have entered the forest themselves, armed only with bows and arrows. Officials say the military is searching there but there have been no results so far.

So parents have in some cases taken bows and arrows into enemy terrain to hunt for their children, because the guys commanding the most powerful and technologically advanced armies in the world are holding up cardboard signs and looking glumly into the camera, as if Boko Haram will be moved to charity by the ostentatiously pathetic nature of it all.

A world leader holding up a sign asking someone to please do something is an unnecessary, if implicit, admission of the intent to do nothing. This has been a running complaint of Western leaders, especially Barack Obama, of late. He has taken to declaring he wouldn’t use force without even being asked. It just became second nature for the president to insist that there wasn’t much to be done.

Although it is an imperfect analogy, it’s striking to contrast this with Ken Adelman’s piece at Politico about Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative. It was derided, of course, as “star wars” by its critics and no one was sure it could even be done. But Adelman, who traveled with Reagan to his famous Reykjavik summit with Mikhail Gorbachev, notes that the Soviet leader was worried enough about SDI that he made it the focus of that meeting. He would give Reagan the dramatic nuclear cuts he wanted, but the deal had to include getting rid of SDI:

Reagan was furious with Gorbachev’s last-minute qualification. And he would not compromise on SDI, no matter the incentives. With all that we have achieved, he in essence told his Soviet counterpart, you throw in this roadblock and everything’s out the window. There’s absolutely no way we will give up research to find a defensive weapon against nuclear missiles.

“Am I wrong?” the president then scribbled on a note to George Schultz, his secretary of state. “No,” was the reply, whispered in his ear. “You are right.”

Adelman notes that the meeting was not considered a success because the two sides didn’t come to an agreement. But it was a success. SDI didn’t bring down the Soviet Union, but it played a role by accelerating Soviet reforms that the system could not, in the end, handle. Adelman quotes Margaret Thatcher as writing in her memoirs that Gorbachev was “so alarmed” by SDI that it made Reagan’s decision on SDI the “single most important of his presidency.”

Development of a missile shield is not the same as deploying forces in harm’s way, of course. But the point is less about the action taken than the willingness to make your enemies believe you’re capable of taking action. I’m reminded of a different Thatcher quote from another edition of her memoirs, when discussing members of her own party who behave as though they’ve already lost to the other side. “Retreat as a tactic is sometimes necessary; retreat as a settled policy eats at the soul.”

Cameron–and other Western leaders, including Obama–would do well to take that to heart. They should stop feeling so helpless, because they aren’t. But at the very least, they should stop acting so helpless.

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Cameron’s Knesset Speech: Closer to Australia and Canada than Obama

Observers awaiting British Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech to Israel’s Knesset, which he delivered earlier today, had been unsure of what to expect. Would the prime minister present a speech similar to the warm pledges of unadulterated support recently offered by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, or would it be closer to the barbed lecture Israel received from Martin Shulz, president of the European parliament, who visited in February?

Indeed, given the harsh misrepresentation that Israel’s government suffered from President Obama in his recent Bloomberg interview, the way had certainly been cleared for Cameron to deliver a tough message if he felt so inclined. And Cameron certainly has no shortage of domestic incentives to appear critical of Israel; large parts of the British public are actively hostile to Israel, while the British Foreign Office is also notoriously cold in its attitude to Israel–hence the unfortunate comments made by Cameron about Gaza during his 2010 visit to Turkey.

Given this background, the speech that Cameron delivered today was decidedly more supportive of Israel than might have been expected. The tone was much closer to that given by Harper, and if this attitude comes to be fully borne out in British policy, then it would place the UK in the same camp as the governments of other pro-Israel English speaking democracies such as Canada and Australia. In this sense the sentiments Cameron expressed today are quite at odds with the increasingly thinly veiled threats coming from Obama and Secretary of State Kerry. Crucially, Cameron set himself apart from both the Europeans and the Obama administration by announcing that he wouldn’t be giving Israel any “lectures” on how to run the peace process.

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Observers awaiting British Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech to Israel’s Knesset, which he delivered earlier today, had been unsure of what to expect. Would the prime minister present a speech similar to the warm pledges of unadulterated support recently offered by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, or would it be closer to the barbed lecture Israel received from Martin Shulz, president of the European parliament, who visited in February?

Indeed, given the harsh misrepresentation that Israel’s government suffered from President Obama in his recent Bloomberg interview, the way had certainly been cleared for Cameron to deliver a tough message if he felt so inclined. And Cameron certainly has no shortage of domestic incentives to appear critical of Israel; large parts of the British public are actively hostile to Israel, while the British Foreign Office is also notoriously cold in its attitude to Israel–hence the unfortunate comments made by Cameron about Gaza during his 2010 visit to Turkey.

Given this background, the speech that Cameron delivered today was decidedly more supportive of Israel than might have been expected. The tone was much closer to that given by Harper, and if this attitude comes to be fully borne out in British policy, then it would place the UK in the same camp as the governments of other pro-Israel English speaking democracies such as Canada and Australia. In this sense the sentiments Cameron expressed today are quite at odds with the increasingly thinly veiled threats coming from Obama and Secretary of State Kerry. Crucially, Cameron set himself apart from both the Europeans and the Obama administration by announcing that he wouldn’t be giving Israel any “lectures” on how to run the peace process.

Perhaps the most significant remarks made by Cameron in the course of his speech were those concerning the Jewish nature of Israel. There had been much anticipation about whether or not Cameron would utter the words “Jewish state.” Given that the Palestinians have said they will refuse under any circumstances to recognize Israel as being the state of the Jewish people, and that the European Union has expressed ambivalence about this Israeli demand, many were waiting to see which side Britain would come out for on this issue. It is heartening then that, in addition to referencing Israel as a “secure homeland for the Jewish people,” Cameron’s outline of his vision for peace included an endorsement of the formulation: “mutual recognition of the nation state of the Palestinian people and the nation state of the Jewish people.” 

Cameron was sure to stress the long and ancient history of the Jews to the land of Israel and spoke of his appreciation of the Jewish people, for their contribution to his country and to the world, as well as of his own distant Jewish ancestry. Naturally, the prime minister spoke at lengths about the history of anti-Semitism and the need to remember the Holocaust, as well as pledging his commitment to defending Jewish practices in Britain today, including kosher slaughtering, which is currently under attack there.

Indeed, Mr. Cameron articulated the all-important connection between remembering the past and acting in the present for Israel’s safety. Touching on the early British role in advancing Zionism, he then went on to declare, “So let me say to you very clearly: with me, you have a British prime minister whose belief in Israel is unbreakable and whose commitment to Israel’s security will always be rock solid.” The prime minister detailed how he had worked to overturn British laws on universal jurisdiction, which were being used by anti-Israel campaigners to keep senior Israelis out of Britain. He claimed credit for acting to create a European consensus for proscribing Hezbollah, for working to try and drive anti-Semitic incitement from British universities, and for keeping anti-Semitic Islamist preachers out of Britain. Equally, Cameron condemned all attempts to boycott Israel, saying, “Israel’s place as a homeland for the Jewish people will never rest on hollow resolutions passed by amateur politicians.”

Having referred to the questioning of Israel’s right to exist as “despicable” and “abhorrent,” Cameron spoke of how Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people is founded in international law and “destiny,” and assured his listeners that “together we will defeat [delegitimization].” Similarly, the prime minister described Israel’s defense of its citizens as “enshrined in international law, natural justice and fundamental morality.” Cameron recognized the concern of territory ceded by Israel becoming a terror base, mentioning the recent interception of a ship carrying Iranian weapons to Gaza and the danger posed by Palestinian incitement, specifically deploring the naming of schools after suicide bombers.

Whereas Obama has threatened Israel that it will become more internationally isolated, Cameron asserted, “No more excuses for the 32 countries who refuse to recognize Israel,” and described as “outrageous” and “ridiculous” the lectures Israel receives at the UN. And Cameron also broke with Obama doctrine, and no doubt the thinking of his own diplomatic service, by refuting the notion that Israel and the absence of an agreement with the Palestinians is causing the problems in the region. Rather, Cameron spoke at considerable length about the “poison” of Islamism. A peace agreement would not stop Iran, noted Cameron, and he stressed that he was not “starry-eyed about the new regime” and shared Israel’s “skepticism” on that front.

If the attitude expressed in this speech were implemented as British policy, then Cameron would rightfully earn himself a place alongside Stephen Harper, Australia’s Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop, and the English speaking leaders of the West. Meanwhile Obama is earning himself a place alongside Martin Shulz and the Europeans.  

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Holocaust Day Isn’t What it Used to Be

Across Europe, Holocaust Memorial Day just isn’t what it used to be. There are still the same sobering gatherings and television broadcasts reflecting on the horrors of a historical event, taking the opportunity to reaffirm the mantra of “Never Again.” Yet, at the same time there is a growing sense of a counter-movement to Holocaust Memorial Day. At times this takes the form of outright displays of Jew-hatred intentionally scheduled to coincide with the commemorations, as if in protest that murdered Jews should be mourned. More subtly there have also been concerted efforts to hijack and manipulate the message of the day.

Most sickening of all were the scenes from France. On the day prior to Holocaust Memorial Day Paris witnessed shocking scenes of open anti-Semitism during anti-government protests which police estimate to have been attended by some 17,000 people. The protest, titled by organizers the Day of Rage, witnessed crowds chanting “Jews out of France” and “The story of the gas chambers is bull****.” At around the same time social media sites were being flooded with pictures of individuals performing the quenelle, the modified Nazi salute, in front of Jewish and Holocaust-related sites. The quenelle was even performed in the Belgium Parliament, shortly before Holocaust Memorial Day, by MP Laurent Louis who also took the opportunity to state that the Holocaust had been setup and financed by Zionists.

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Across Europe, Holocaust Memorial Day just isn’t what it used to be. There are still the same sobering gatherings and television broadcasts reflecting on the horrors of a historical event, taking the opportunity to reaffirm the mantra of “Never Again.” Yet, at the same time there is a growing sense of a counter-movement to Holocaust Memorial Day. At times this takes the form of outright displays of Jew-hatred intentionally scheduled to coincide with the commemorations, as if in protest that murdered Jews should be mourned. More subtly there have also been concerted efforts to hijack and manipulate the message of the day.

Most sickening of all were the scenes from France. On the day prior to Holocaust Memorial Day Paris witnessed shocking scenes of open anti-Semitism during anti-government protests which police estimate to have been attended by some 17,000 people. The protest, titled by organizers the Day of Rage, witnessed crowds chanting “Jews out of France” and “The story of the gas chambers is bull****.” At around the same time social media sites were being flooded with pictures of individuals performing the quenelle, the modified Nazi salute, in front of Jewish and Holocaust-related sites. The quenelle was even performed in the Belgium Parliament, shortly before Holocaust Memorial Day, by MP Laurent Louis who also took the opportunity to state that the Holocaust had been setup and financed by Zionists.

Other efforts to challenge Holocaust Memorial Day have at least attempted to pass themselves off under the seemingly legitimate guise of political correctness. One of the most concerted campaigns has been that of Muslim groups to have Holocaust Memorial Day replaced with Genocide Memorial Day, which uncannily falls just days before Holocaust commemorations. Mehdi Hasan has written about his shame at his own community’s efforts to belittle the Holocaust, highlighting how in past years the Muslim Council of Britain has boycotted the memorial day. This year the Islamic Human Rights Commission has held Genocide Day events in London, Paris, and Amsterdam. But as became apparent at one such previous event organized by the IHRC, the focus was not other genocides, but primarily the crimes of Zionism. During the Q&A it was asserted that the “real” Holocaust had been the wartime bombing of German cities and that Anne Frank had not been murdered, but had merely died of typhus.

Another increasingly popular Holocaust Memorial Day activity is using the day to highlight the cause of the Palestinians and lambast Jews and Israel. Days before commemorations, British MP David Ward was once again doing just that. Last year he accused “the Jews” of not having learned “the lessons of the Holocaust.” This year, speaking in Parliament, Ward asked if we should not use the day to remember “the millions of displaced Palestinians, still denied their right, to return to their homes.” This effort to sublimate the memory of murdered Jews beneath the political cause of the Palestinians was most overtly manifested in 2009 when a Swedish city canceled its Holocaust commemorations, with one organizer explaining, “We have been preoccupied and grief-stricken by the war in Gaza.”

There has also been the bizarre phenomenon of selecting what would seem to be the most unsuitable people for participation in the commemorations. At this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day it was announced that Prime Minister Cameron has established a new Holocaust Commission, but on that commission will sit Labour’s Ed Balls, who was exposed for dressing as a Nazi in his spare time. Meanwhile, London’s 2013 Holocaust Memorial Ceremony, attended by Mayor Boris Johnson and former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, featured as a speaker Muslim activist Hassan Farooq–a curious choice given that Farooq is on record praising Hitler and calling for the murder and gassing of Jews.

This year, however, the person who perhaps did the most for subtly perverting the meaning and spirit of Holocaust Memorial Day was the EU’s foreign-affairs representative Baroness Ashton. Ashton’s Holocaust Memorial Day statement took the opportunity to condemn racism, to praise those who had protected “their fellow citizens” and to declare that “respect of human rights and diversity lies at the heart of what the European Union stands for.” Yet, Jews and anti-Semitism were not mentioned once. Chilling to see the Jews erased from a statement that supposedly commemorates the event that attempted to erase them altogether.

Perhaps many Europeans have gotten tired of feeling guilty about the Holocaust, being reminded of their own societies’ participation, collaboration, or indifferent inaction to the murder of not just any people, but specifically the Jews. And remembering the Jews of World War Two only serves to remind them of the Jews still around today, and to remind them that they don’t much like these Jews either.  

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About That Special Relationship

Some are fretting about whether the special relationship that has bound the United States and the United Kingdom since World War II has been damaged by the House of Common’s vote against British participation in Syria and Prime Minister’s David Cameron’s decision to accept the Commons’ verdict. The New York Times’ Roger Cohen, who has been writing from the UK for some time now, says in his column today that “Britain’s decision not to stand with the United States, its closest ally, in possible military action to punish the Syrian regime for a deadly chemical weapons attack marks a watershed moment that leaves the ‘special relationship’ in search of meaning and Britain in search of its role in the world.” Cohen’s column, rarely praised by COMMENTARY, is spot on.

Britain’s capitulation to war-weary public opinion is foremost a personal defeat for Cameron—the first prime minister to lose a vote on going to war since 1782—ironically, when Great Britain was at war with the United States. There are mitigating circumstances, of course. Cameron rushed the vote unnecessarily. He lost by only 13 votes, which could not have happened had it not been for an internal Tory Party revolt. Additionally, the public debate was short. Another week and the UN inspectors’ report might have changed things. At this point, no one quite knows the mission and goals of intervention. So Cameron’s decision to heed the call of Parliament and sit this one out may easily be interpreted as a transient problem, suggesting he needs to work on his communication skills, party unity, and overall popularity.

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Some are fretting about whether the special relationship that has bound the United States and the United Kingdom since World War II has been damaged by the House of Common’s vote against British participation in Syria and Prime Minister’s David Cameron’s decision to accept the Commons’ verdict. The New York Times’ Roger Cohen, who has been writing from the UK for some time now, says in his column today that “Britain’s decision not to stand with the United States, its closest ally, in possible military action to punish the Syrian regime for a deadly chemical weapons attack marks a watershed moment that leaves the ‘special relationship’ in search of meaning and Britain in search of its role in the world.” Cohen’s column, rarely praised by COMMENTARY, is spot on.

Britain’s capitulation to war-weary public opinion is foremost a personal defeat for Cameron—the first prime minister to lose a vote on going to war since 1782—ironically, when Great Britain was at war with the United States. There are mitigating circumstances, of course. Cameron rushed the vote unnecessarily. He lost by only 13 votes, which could not have happened had it not been for an internal Tory Party revolt. Additionally, the public debate was short. Another week and the UN inspectors’ report might have changed things. At this point, no one quite knows the mission and goals of intervention. So Cameron’s decision to heed the call of Parliament and sit this one out may easily be interpreted as a transient problem, suggesting he needs to work on his communication skills, party unity, and overall popularity.

But there is a deeper problem that goes beyond Cameron or the vote. Consider that Ed Miliband, the current British Labour Party leader, has repeatedly indicated that he wants any action against Syria to be squarely placed under international law—meaning some sort of UN umbrella. Miliband not only seems unconcerned that yesterday’s humiliation of the prime minister handed a spectacular propaganda victory to Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad; he knows full well that making a Syrian intervention dependent on a non-existent UN path means giving a green light to Assad to continue his butchery.

Miliband, in other words, wants Britain to commit itself to a pointless act of endless diplomacy designed to stall rather than facilitate military action. That is not what allies do. It is all reminiscent of French President Jacques Chirac and his Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin’s effort to undermine President Bush when he was seeking a second UN resolution to go to war against Saddam Hussein. Should Cameron soon exit the political scene—something he might consider after losing such a fateful policy vote—his successor will move Britain further away from the days when it could be counted on as the bedrock of transatlantic relations. 

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The Decline and Fall of David Cameron’s Tory Centrism

David Cameron is in trouble. His Tory party is fraying, with conservatives fleeing or threatening to flee to right-wing parties and non-conservatives distinctly unimpressed with his flailing dash to the center. He is unable to win over converts or keep his own party in line, and thus his career is fading along with his poll numbers. Last week the Washington Post reported on a Tory revolt in the House of Commons over Cameron’s stance on social issues. And today, the UK edition of GQ magazine hits newsstands and contains an interview with Cameron’s former spokesman which discusses the gains of the prime minister’s intraparty rival.

Though rumors have swirled for quite some time that Cameron was susceptible to a Tory leadership challenge from London Mayor Boris Johnson–who is not a member of the British parliament (though he served until 2008) and thus should not be nearly so close in Cameron’s rearview mirror–the idea that Johnson will replace him is now commonly discussed in terms of when, not if (though perhaps they should be discussing how). Cameron’s former flack, Andy Coulson, was asked by GQ about the Boris effect. The full interview seems to be behind a paywall, but the magazine has released snippets to non-subscribers. When asked for his take on Johnson, Coulson responded:

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David Cameron is in trouble. His Tory party is fraying, with conservatives fleeing or threatening to flee to right-wing parties and non-conservatives distinctly unimpressed with his flailing dash to the center. He is unable to win over converts or keep his own party in line, and thus his career is fading along with his poll numbers. Last week the Washington Post reported on a Tory revolt in the House of Commons over Cameron’s stance on social issues. And today, the UK edition of GQ magazine hits newsstands and contains an interview with Cameron’s former spokesman which discusses the gains of the prime minister’s intraparty rival.

Though rumors have swirled for quite some time that Cameron was susceptible to a Tory leadership challenge from London Mayor Boris Johnson–who is not a member of the British parliament (though he served until 2008) and thus should not be nearly so close in Cameron’s rearview mirror–the idea that Johnson will replace him is now commonly discussed in terms of when, not if (though perhaps they should be discussing how). Cameron’s former flack, Andy Coulson, was asked by GQ about the Boris effect. The full interview seems to be behind a paywall, but the magazine has released snippets to non-subscribers. When asked for his take on Johnson, Coulson responded:

Boris Johnson desperately wants to be prime minister and David has known that fact longer than most.  When Boris asked me to pass on the message that he was keen to stand as mayor of London, David responded, “Well, if he wins, he’ll want my job next.”  If proof were needed that our PM is a man untroubled by self doubt, it came in his next sentence, “So I think he’ll be a bloody brilliant candidate for us”…..Stabbing David, or anyone else for that matter, in the back would be distinctly off brand — just not very Boris.  He would much prefer to see David fail miserably in the election and ride in on his bike to save party and country.

Though it would likely be easy to find a seat in the Commons for Johnson, and though the premiership has evolved unofficially over time from more modest–and still unofficial, in a strict sense–beginnings, this would be a remarkable turn of events. Born in New York City with family roots scattered across Europe, Johnson is a colorful loose cannon able to appeal to working-class voters despite his classic Eton and Oxford education. That has been the right mix for Londoners, who have now twice elected him over Labour’s “Red” Ken Livingstone. Boris today has a 65 percent approval rating, with “charismatic” being the most popular one-term description of the mayor.

That poll is better for Boris than it looks. YouGov asked respondents which term applies to Johnson: charismatic; sticks to beliefs; natural leader; in touch with ordinary people; strong; decisive; good in a crisis; honest; none of these; don’t know. Almost 60 percent said charismatic, his highest among the choices. YouGov asked respondents the same question of Cameron, and the term chosen the most was: none of these, at 45 percent.

But the idea that Cameron is already a lame duck within his own party, and maybe even about to be replaced by the mayor of London, would mean Cameron has risen fast and fallen faster. How did that happen? It isn’t same-sex marriage, to be sure. Cameron’s vacillating on Britain’s membership in the European Union has been far more consequential an issue to his fellow Tories (and to the party scooping up Tory defectors, UKIP). The Washington Post story gets closer to the answer, when it gets a quote from Tory Lord David Howell:

“Old fossils like me always wondered about this great shift to the promised land of the center,” said Lord David Howell, who served in Thatcher’s conservative cabinet in the 1980s. “Is it really just a journey to a place where no one really likes you anymore?”

In Cameron’s case, the answer appears to be: yes. But it would be more accurate to say that Cameron’s popularity never really existed as prime minister in the first place, and that his steady shift to the center, on the EU and other matters, were the disease and not the cure–though Cameron confused each for its opposite.

Almost exactly one year before the May 2010 general election, Cameron’s Conservative Party polled at 43 percent, which gave them a 16 percent lead in first place. The lead fluctuated, but generally hovered around that mark until it began slipping in the fall and continued dropping into the new year. By mid-April, the lead had completely evaporated, with the Liberal Democrats posting a one-point lead and Labour only seven points behind. Cameron eventually recovered for a seven-point victory that forced a coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

What happened? At the risk of oversimplifying, Cameron was beginning to waver on campaign promises months before he even won. Polls in September 2009 found majority support for a national referendum on EU membership. By early October, the Guardian was reporting that “David Cameron retreats on European referendum,” instead promising to “repatriate” some powers back to Britain in lieu of letting the people make the choice. That same article notes that a certain mayor of London publicly disagreed, saying he wanted a referendum “and a lot of people will agree with me.”

There is more to Cameron’s unpopularity than just the EU issue, but it’s indicative of his general governing style: desperately grasping for a centrist solution that will maximize support but which ends up minimizing support, in part because of poor policy ideas and in part because he gives off the impression of a politician in over his head. Once upon a time Cameron benefited from debates about whether Boris Johnson could do any better than he could. If they are now debating whether Boris could possibly do any worse, Cameron is on his way out.

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Britain, the EU, and Reverse Integration

In 2007, James Mann published a book called The China Fantasy, about American leaders downplaying Chinese human rights violations in the interest of integrating China into the global economy. The aim of “integration” was to involve China in world affairs and force it to play by certain rules, which would hopefully be habit-forming and result in more domestic freedom. It didn’t exactly happen that way, and Mann offered an explanation why: reverse integration. As he wrote:

The fundamental problem with this strategy of integration is that it raises the obvious question “Who’s integrating whom?” Is the United States now integrating China into a new international economic order based upon free market principles? Or, on the other hand, is China now integrating the United States into a new international political order where democracy is no longer favored and where a government’s continuing eradication of all organized political opposition is accepted or ignored?

Needless to say, the United States itself doesn’t have to become more like China for reverse integration to take place; it merely needs to accept that China’s existing values are welcome in the international community. It’s worth keeping this concept of reverse integration in mind when examining the thorny question of Britain’s membership in the European Union. Not only does there seem to be a case of reverse integration taking place, but in contrast with the U.S./China analogy Britain is actually at risk of becoming more like the rest of the EU through its participation–even if it holds on to its sovereign currency.

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In 2007, James Mann published a book called The China Fantasy, about American leaders downplaying Chinese human rights violations in the interest of integrating China into the global economy. The aim of “integration” was to involve China in world affairs and force it to play by certain rules, which would hopefully be habit-forming and result in more domestic freedom. It didn’t exactly happen that way, and Mann offered an explanation why: reverse integration. As he wrote:

The fundamental problem with this strategy of integration is that it raises the obvious question “Who’s integrating whom?” Is the United States now integrating China into a new international economic order based upon free market principles? Or, on the other hand, is China now integrating the United States into a new international political order where democracy is no longer favored and where a government’s continuing eradication of all organized political opposition is accepted or ignored?

Needless to say, the United States itself doesn’t have to become more like China for reverse integration to take place; it merely needs to accept that China’s existing values are welcome in the international community. It’s worth keeping this concept of reverse integration in mind when examining the thorny question of Britain’s membership in the European Union. Not only does there seem to be a case of reverse integration taking place, but in contrast with the U.S./China analogy Britain is actually at risk of becoming more like the rest of the EU through its participation–even if it holds on to its sovereign currency.

In January, the Obama administration sought to pressure Britain to resist calls to leave the European Union, and then at a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Cameron a week ago, President Obama reiterated the message. The Obama administration’s logic has been simple: Britain can be a voice for the Anglosphere from within the EU and help counteract European anti-Americanism. Outside the EU, Britain’s influence–and thus its use to the current U.S. administration–would fade to near-irrelevancy. From Obama’s perspective–and it is not without its merit–Britain has far more to offer American interests by working the system from the inside.

But what if Britain falls victim to reverse integration and instead of improving America’s standing inside the EU its dissent is stifled and conformity is thoroughly enforced? That’s where the relationship seems to be heading, if recent stories are any indication. Heading into the weekend the Financial Times reported that once the EU passed its cap on financial-sector bonuses for all member countries, it began to make some changes: “Europe’s banking regulator has this week significantly widened the definition of staff who will be affected by the incoming bonus cap.” But the actual pay cap amount was never the point. As Daniel Hannan explained after the initial bonus cap was passed:

In any event, what has any of this to do with Brussels? When we talk about bankers’ remuneration in the EU, we really mean bankers’ remuneration in London. Again and again, the effect of anti-London regulation is to disadvantage Europe’s only major financial centre. The business driven away from the City is not going to Frankfurt or Milan, but to New York and Hong Kong.

Last night’s vote neatly symbolised Britain’s weakness within the EU. We were outvoted 26-to-1 on an issue that was, fundamentally, no one’s business but ours. The Treasury will lose billions in tax revenue. My constituency, which surrounds London, and benefits from the knock-on impact of the financial services industry, will suffer. Britain will fall behind in one of the few sectors where it enjoys a global lead. The EU will pile on regulations which, paradoxically, make a future crash more likely (see here). All to satisfy the prejudices of people who dislike the whole notion of capitalism.

Of course, that actually does advance American financial interests to a certain extent, but it’s doubtful that’s what Obama had in mind. And while class warfare will always find plenty of supporters in Europe, perhaps more audacious has been the EU’s efforts to crack down on press freedom across the continent. To that end, in January an EU-commissioned report advocated that EU countries establish media watchdogs to be monitored by the European Commission. A group of publishers pronounced themselves horrified.

A few months later, it was revealed that the EU has been spending millions to fund groups advocating for more press restrictions, and that Britain’s feisty euroskeptic press was the target. And yet in March of this year, the three major British parties–Cameron’s Tories among them, of course–seemed to agree, coming together on a proposal to crack down on that feisty press. That’s not to say there wasn’t plenty of opposition to the proposal, which began building right away. But you would think the prime minister and leader of the Conservatives would know better.

When the EU strikes at what it sees as the symbol of capitalism on the continent, Britain is powerless to stop it. And when the EU seeks to chip away at basic freedoms, like that of the press, Cameron is a step ahead of even the EU. The U.S. may want Britain in the EU to be an advocate for Western values, but the administration may be surprised to see just how fast the EU can integrate its member states.

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Another (Self-Induced) Diplomatic Headache for Obama

For an administration that has made no effort to conceal its disdain for allied diplomacy, whether with an Israel that President Obama insists doesn’t know its own interests or a British political class that absorbs repeated insults with typical grace, yesterday’s Falklands referendum will provide a few more headaches. The Falkland Islands have been a source of minor tension between Britain and the Obama administration, which refuses to recognize the clear-as-day British sovereignty over the islands and even took the bizarre step of attempting to use the Argentinean term for them. (I say “attempting” because Obama flubbed the name.)

When Secretary of State John Kerry visited London in late February, he was asked about the then-upcoming vote in which the residents of the islands would choose their fate. Kerry explained that he could not begin to care about the wishes of the islanders: “Let me be very clear about our position with respect to the Falklands, which I believe is clear. First of all, I’m not going to comment, nor is the President, on a referendum that has yet to take place, hasn’t taken place. Our position on the Falklands has not changed. The United States recognizes de facto U.K. administration of the islands but takes no position on the question of parties’ sovereignty claims thereto. We support co-operation between U.K. and Argentina on practical matters,” Kerry said.

Well now the referendum has taken place, and it’s a result for the pro-British side that vote-rigging autocrats around the world could only dream of. The AP reports that “An overwhelming 99.8 percent of Falkland Islands voters have backed keeping their government just the way it is: a British Overseas Territory.”

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For an administration that has made no effort to conceal its disdain for allied diplomacy, whether with an Israel that President Obama insists doesn’t know its own interests or a British political class that absorbs repeated insults with typical grace, yesterday’s Falklands referendum will provide a few more headaches. The Falkland Islands have been a source of minor tension between Britain and the Obama administration, which refuses to recognize the clear-as-day British sovereignty over the islands and even took the bizarre step of attempting to use the Argentinean term for them. (I say “attempting” because Obama flubbed the name.)

When Secretary of State John Kerry visited London in late February, he was asked about the then-upcoming vote in which the residents of the islands would choose their fate. Kerry explained that he could not begin to care about the wishes of the islanders: “Let me be very clear about our position with respect to the Falklands, which I believe is clear. First of all, I’m not going to comment, nor is the President, on a referendum that has yet to take place, hasn’t taken place. Our position on the Falklands has not changed. The United States recognizes de facto U.K. administration of the islands but takes no position on the question of parties’ sovereignty claims thereto. We support co-operation between U.K. and Argentina on practical matters,” Kerry said.

Well now the referendum has taken place, and it’s a result for the pro-British side that vote-rigging autocrats around the world could only dream of. The AP reports that “An overwhelming 99.8 percent of Falkland Islands voters have backed keeping their government just the way it is: a British Overseas Territory.”

The irony of the Falklands is that those who either oppose British sovereignty over the islands or simply refuse to support it have contributed far more to the U.K.’s lasting control over the islands than anyone on the British side. They have turned what was a faraway and costly remnant of a disintegrating empire into an issue of national pride. This was certainly what Argentina did when it chose to invade the islands in 1982. Argentinean junta leaders correctly read signals indicating the British had no real desire to hold on to the islands, and a bit of patience would have almost certainly been rewarded. Instead, they attacked.

In his history of the Cold War, Norman Stone recounts the scene with typically colorful flourishes. Both Argentina and the British seemed to think that a quiet transfer of authority of the islands to Argentina would be in everyone’s interest. Stone describes the unfolding of a genuinely stupid miscalculation on the part of the junta:

In December 1981 a General Leopoldo Galtieri seized the dominant role in the Buenos Aires military junta, and he appeared as the ultimate in comic, circus-uniformed rulers, an “El Supremo” out of Hornblower. In March 1982 he tested the waters: his troops landed on South Georgia, a remote, frozen place from which the British had conducted surveys of the Antarctic. Then, on 2 April, he invaded the Falklands. In London there was disbelief: a senior Foreign Office man caught the mood when he gasped, they cannot treat a major power in this way.

Parliament was furious and Margaret Thatcher took action, sending forces to repel the invasion. Stone notes that public opinion was rallied to the cause. Had the Argentine junta been smart, even the island’s inhabitants who wanted to remain under the crown could have been relocated to other islands still controlled by Britain and for a fraction of the cost of the Falklands war. Yet the junta “behaved with grotesque obstinacy.” The junta seemed to think they’d have American support; they of course did not. Stone suggests the junta leaders may have even misread Jeane Kirkpatrick’s COMMENTARY essay on “Dictatorships and Double Standards” to think they had some latitude in acting out their delusional fantasies. The French helped the British effort, which was successful. Thatcher was able to say “we have ceased to be a nation in retreat.”

The junta fell and Thatcher was venerated as a liberator. British national pride received a much-needed jolt and, Stone writes, “in some ways it marked the high point of the Thatcher period: a courageous budget was associated with economic recovery, and the Falklands campaign with a great sea-change in international affairs.”

The Falklands were an artifact; they were not exactly the jewel in the crown. But just like that they had become a new kind of Dunkirk, a symbol of British strength and resolve. As the AP story notes, some are raising questions about the logic of retaining the islands in an age of austerity. The vote was less a message to the United States than it was to David Cameron not to cut them loose to free up some spare change. But that decision, if taken, will ultimately be Britain’s. Denying British sovereignty remains silly. You can’t ask for much more of a mandate than 99.8 percent agreement among the population.

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Is Britain’s EU Membership in America’s Interests?

British Prime Minister David Cameron is ruffling feathers in Brussels by vowing, if he is reelected, to allow the British people to vote on whether to stay in the European Union. “It is time for the British people to have their say. It is time to settle this European question in British politics,” he said in a long-anticipated speech.

What an outrage—letting the voters rather than the Brussels bureaucrats have their say! That, at least, is the view in Brussels.

I am agnostic on whether the UK should remain as part of the EU or not—there are good arguments on both sides—but I am pretty sure the U.S. should not be pushing to keep the UK in. Yet that is just what the Obama administration seems to be doing.

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British Prime Minister David Cameron is ruffling feathers in Brussels by vowing, if he is reelected, to allow the British people to vote on whether to stay in the European Union. “It is time for the British people to have their say. It is time to settle this European question in British politics,” he said in a long-anticipated speech.

What an outrage—letting the voters rather than the Brussels bureaucrats have their say! That, at least, is the view in Brussels.

I am agnostic on whether the UK should remain as part of the EU or not—there are good arguments on both sides—but I am pretty sure the U.S. should not be pushing to keep the UK in. Yet that is just what the Obama administration seems to be doing.

On a recent visit to London, Phil Gordon, the assistant secretary of state for European affairs, warned against holding a referendum. “We welcome an outward-looking European Union with Britain in it. We benefit when the EU is unified, speaking with a single voice, and focused on our shared interests around the world and in Europe,” he said, adding: “We want to see a strong British voice in that European Union. That is in the American interest.”

Well, that’s one view of the American interest. The UK undoubtedly can advocate an Atlanticist, pro-American viewpoint within the councils of the EU, although it is not always going to carry the day over other EU members. But there is an equally—if not more—plausible argument to be made that the U.S. would benefit from Britain’s exit from the EU.

The UK is, after all, one of our oldest and closest allies. But with the EU increasingly attempting to push for a unified foreign policy the danger is that in the future Britain will be less likely to stand with the United States. If British action in a future Afghanistan or Iraq would be predicated on getting the approval of the rest of the EU, the likelihood is that the U.S. will be left to fight alone.

It is hardly obvious, in sum, that our interest lies in keeping the EU together. Better to let the British figure out on their own the future of their country. The U.S. has no call to intrude itself into this internal debate.

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What Not to Learn in London

Mitt Romney is in London today showing his ability to act on the international stage as well as seeking to emphasize that he is prepared to embrace America’s traditional allies in Britain, Poland and Israel in contrast to President Obama’s desire to distance the U.S. from these nations. In London he will also get reacquainted with British Prime Minister David Cameron with whom he found himself in an unplanned and unnecessary spat about Olympic preparations. But rather than take lessons from him on how to get elected and to govern as a conservative, Cameron provides a sterling example of the bad choices that Romney should avoid during the campaign as well as once in office should he triumph in November.

It should be stipulated that the political cultures and circumstances of the two countries are vastly different. For all of their problems, Republicans are not in the position that Britain’s Conservative Party found itself prior to Cameron becoming PM in May 2010. The Tories needed a makeover after 13 years out of government while Tony Blair’s new Labor ruled. They got it with the handsome Cameron who sought to refashion the party’s image away from Margaret Thatcher’s “nasty party” to a new Conservative leadership that embraced environmentalism, gay rights and any other issue that would make them more popular. But while Cameron remains in residence at Number 10 Downing Street, the experiment of watering down conservative ideology has not been successful. The instinctively moderate Romney needs to take notice of Cameron’s failures. If he doesn’t, it will not only reduce his chances of victory over President Obama but impact his chances of making a difference even if he wins.

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Mitt Romney is in London today showing his ability to act on the international stage as well as seeking to emphasize that he is prepared to embrace America’s traditional allies in Britain, Poland and Israel in contrast to President Obama’s desire to distance the U.S. from these nations. In London he will also get reacquainted with British Prime Minister David Cameron with whom he found himself in an unplanned and unnecessary spat about Olympic preparations. But rather than take lessons from him on how to get elected and to govern as a conservative, Cameron provides a sterling example of the bad choices that Romney should avoid during the campaign as well as once in office should he triumph in November.

It should be stipulated that the political cultures and circumstances of the two countries are vastly different. For all of their problems, Republicans are not in the position that Britain’s Conservative Party found itself prior to Cameron becoming PM in May 2010. The Tories needed a makeover after 13 years out of government while Tony Blair’s new Labor ruled. They got it with the handsome Cameron who sought to refashion the party’s image away from Margaret Thatcher’s “nasty party” to a new Conservative leadership that embraced environmentalism, gay rights and any other issue that would make them more popular. But while Cameron remains in residence at Number 10 Downing Street, the experiment of watering down conservative ideology has not been successful. The instinctively moderate Romney needs to take notice of Cameron’s failures. If he doesn’t, it will not only reduce his chances of victory over President Obama but impact his chances of making a difference even if he wins.

Some would argue that Cameron had to take the Tories down a path in which traditional conservative positions were jettisoned. Britain had moved on from Thatcher’s era, and the move of Labor to the center under Blair stood to become permanent if the Tories did not accommodate themselves to the change in the climate. Cameron’s embrace of politically correct positions on social issues and the environment combined with fiscal conservatism seemed the perfect formula for victory. But in spite of Labor’s collapse under Blair’s successor Gordon Brown and the readiness of the voters for change, Cameron’s weak tea approach to policy did not bring the victory he expected. Instead of winning the election outright, he was forced to make a coalition with the Liberal Democrats in order to achieve his goal of becoming prime minister. But in order to do that, he had to further weaken his party’s base.

Two years later, Cameron is saddled with a disgruntled liberal coalition partner and a party base that not only despises him but which is, as Andrew Pierce in the Daily Mail writes, literally disintegrating. Though Tories cannot count on the same large, religious and deeply politically conservative base that is the heart of the GOP, the party activists in the shires, without whom future victories are impossible, are abandoning Cameron in droves. He is getting all the blame for Britain’s austerity budget. but having failed to provide a clear ideological alternative to Labor (British writer Melanie Phillips aptly dubbed him “David Obameron” in response to his open affection for the American president), he is unable to frame the issue in a manner that will gain him credit for keeping the nation afloat.

While the dilemmas facing Republicans and Tories are starkly different, what Romney can learn from Cameron is that a politician who tries to be all things to all people can not only snatch near defeat from the jaws of victory as the PM did two years ago but is not likely to be able to govern effectively or retain the loyalty of his party. Standing up for conservative principles can be difficult in the face of the opprobrium that it will bring from the liberal mainstream media, but such brickbats are the price one must pay for principle. Cameron was unwilling to pay that price, and though he may have achieved his ambition to become prime minister, it has cost him the ability to govern effectively and may well lead to his eventual defeat.

Romney should enjoy his British visit, but if he wants a good British model he should look to Cameron’s Tory predecessors such as Thatcher and Winston Churchill (whose bust he has promised to return to the Oval Office after its removal by Obama). If he wants to win he should follow their examples rather than that of the feckless Obama-light Cameron.

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Is a Government Entitled to Say Who is Fit to Run a Media Company?

The hacking scandal at the British newspapers owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch has transfixed the English press in the last year and become a major political issue. So it’s not surprising that the parliamentary committee tasked with investigating the matter would seek to heap opprobrium on Murdoch for the various sins committed by his employees in the cause of digging up dirt on the famous and not so famous who became the subject of notoriety. If laws were broken then, as would be the case in the United States, the chips must fall were they may and the guilty brought to book. But the committee’s published conclusions about the scandal went beyond that. In its report, the committee stated that Murdoch was “not a fit person” to run an international media conglomerate.

Murdoch is an easy person to dislike. His unparalleled success in publishing and broadcast media is unprecedented and widely envied. He is identified (not always correctly) with the political right and therefore is considered an enemy of all that is good by the political left, especially those in the media who dislike his visionary decision to create outlets where the traditional liberal consensus will not predominate. But even if one were to agree with those who think his influence on the industry pernicious and his politics odious, how can anyone, especially in the media, regard the attempt by some in the British parliament to determine who can and who cannot own a media company?

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The hacking scandal at the British newspapers owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch has transfixed the English press in the last year and become a major political issue. So it’s not surprising that the parliamentary committee tasked with investigating the matter would seek to heap opprobrium on Murdoch for the various sins committed by his employees in the cause of digging up dirt on the famous and not so famous who became the subject of notoriety. If laws were broken then, as would be the case in the United States, the chips must fall were they may and the guilty brought to book. But the committee’s published conclusions about the scandal went beyond that. In its report, the committee stated that Murdoch was “not a fit person” to run an international media conglomerate.

Murdoch is an easy person to dislike. His unparalleled success in publishing and broadcast media is unprecedented and widely envied. He is identified (not always correctly) with the political right and therefore is considered an enemy of all that is good by the political left, especially those in the media who dislike his visionary decision to create outlets where the traditional liberal consensus will not predominate. But even if one were to agree with those who think his influence on the industry pernicious and his politics odious, how can anyone, especially in the media, regard the attempt by some in the British parliament to determine who can and who cannot own a media company?

In making such a statement, the narrow majority of the committee that voted to approve the report (It passed by a vote of 6-4 with Labor and Liberal Democrat members voting in favor and Conservatives opposed), have taken this issue beyond any wrongdoing committed at the now-shuttered News of the World owned by Murdoch’s News Corporation. Though the leaders of the company may have failed to act to stop illegal wiretapping and other scurrilous practices, for a government committee to seek to force Murdoch to leave his position at the top of the company he founded is an abuse of power that is no less sinister than anything Murdoch may have done or not done.

The implications of this statement go beyond a mere committee report. Blowback from the scandal forced the Murdoch family to withdraw a bid for control of a satellite broadcast outlet. And by seeking to tie British Prime Minister David Cameron’s government to the scandal, it’s clear that there is more at work here than a disturbing case of media misbehavior. The goal of much of the left-wing media from the start of this scandal has not been to focus on what were once quite common if arguably criminal actions undertaken by tabloid press outlets that would stop at nothing to get gossip or news about celebrities or those involved in crimes that interested the public. Rather, the objective from the start has been to get Murdoch and to drive him out of the media.

Whatever crimes were committed or mistakes made at his company, it is fairly obvious that Murdoch knows what he is doing in the media business. If the day comes when he, his family or other members of his management team are no longer capable of doing their jobs, we assume that, as in the rest of the real world not controlled by politicians, they will either be forced out by stockholders or driven out of the business by more successful competitors. That is the essence of free enterprise and an open marketplace.

But as much as the public is entitled to be outraged at the News of the World’s misbehavior, the idea that the British parliament or any group of politicians can attempt to determine how private companies operate is abhorrent. It speaks to a desire by many on the left to control the media and to restrict freedom of speech to those who agree with them rather than their opponents. That totalitarian impulse is at the heart of the Murdoch lynch mob. Any journalist, be they on the left or the right, should regard this tendency with horror and utterly condemn it.

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Obama’s Private Assurances on Falklands Not Good Enough

There’s been a lot of comment around the Internet about the Obama Administration’s refusal to back Britain in the growing tensions with Argentina over the Falkland Islands. Now comes word that, supposedly, the President has thought better of this folly: according to David Cameron, he and Obama “briefly” discussed the issue, and, as Cameron says, “the U.S. position is that they support the status quo, they don’t argue against the status quo and that is very welcome . . .. They are content with the status quo; they are not challenging the status quo.”

So, summing up, Obama = status quo. Though that’s not quite the way the New York Times puts it, which, without giving a direct quote, asserts that Obama said the U.S. “would stop prodding Britain and Argentina to talk to each other, but stick to its historic position of neutrality.”  If so, that is actually a change of the Administration’s previous policy of backing negotiations over the status of the islands. But without a direct statement, it is impossible to be sure, and, frankly, a policy of neutrality is just not good enough.

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There’s been a lot of comment around the Internet about the Obama Administration’s refusal to back Britain in the growing tensions with Argentina over the Falkland Islands. Now comes word that, supposedly, the President has thought better of this folly: according to David Cameron, he and Obama “briefly” discussed the issue, and, as Cameron says, “the U.S. position is that they support the status quo, they don’t argue against the status quo and that is very welcome . . .. They are content with the status quo; they are not challenging the status quo.”

So, summing up, Obama = status quo. Though that’s not quite the way the New York Times puts it, which, without giving a direct quote, asserts that Obama said the U.S. “would stop prodding Britain and Argentina to talk to each other, but stick to its historic position of neutrality.”  If so, that is actually a change of the Administration’s previous policy of backing negotiations over the status of the islands. But without a direct statement, it is impossible to be sure, and, frankly, a policy of neutrality is just not good enough.

Having won the 1982 war with Argentina, and with the islands settled almost exclusively by Britons, Britain should demand nothing less than a recognition by the United States of its sovereignty, on the basis of both its historic claim and the expressed will of the people of the Falklands. The fact that this current crisis was ginned up exclusively by Argentina for domestic political reasons, and that they are still escalating it – even as Cameron spoke, Argentina announced that it would pursue legal action against oil and shipping firms that operate in Falklands waters – gives Britain, if possible, an even stronger case.

The entire Obama policy toward the Falklands makes no sense on the surface, but when governments do something that seems to make no sense, there’s usually a reason for it. The most charitable explanation would be to invoke Occam’s Razor, and to suggest that the problem is one common to all administrations: career State Department officials – perhaps on the Argentina desk — writing briefs and driving policy in ways that make their life easier, but that don’t actually reflect the policies the higher-ups want to adopt, if they took a moment to think about it. I would like to believe that, partly because every administration faces the problem of trying to get State to stop making policy on its own, and partly because – if Cameron really did make a break-through – it would give him credit for raising the issue, and Obama credit for recognizing that his subordinates were making a mess of things.

But I’m afraid I can’t accept that explanation. The parade of senior officials who spoke on the record urging negotiations between Britain and Argentina has been too long for it to be a case of unguided subordinates.  It was back in March 2010, two years ago, when the Secretary of State herself kicked off the parade by stating, in a press conference in Argentina with Argentine President Kristina Kirchner that: “We would like to see Argentina and the United Kingdom sit down and resolve the issues between them across the table in a peaceful, productive way.”

And as recently as last month, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland repeated that message: “We are encouraging Argentina and the UK to work this out peacefully, to work it out through negotiations.”

So my explanation is more along the lines of Peter’s comment about Obama and gas prices: the Administration’s policy is purely cynical. It figured it could get credit in Argentina by sounding sympathetic to it, but that the actual risk of an Argentine invasion was limited, so nothing much would happen that would actually hurt British interests.  The only flaws in this approach are that Argentina can cause a lot of headaches for Britain and the islands without invading, that egging on Argentina’s domestic populism is rampantly irresponsible and runs the risk of encouraging a war, that it imposes on Britain a further cost for defending the islands, and that it gets the British very annoyed and encourages an unhelpful British suspicion of the U.S.

So until I hear President Obama state, on the record and publicly, that the U.S. sees no reason for negotiations over the Islands because it recognizes British sovereignty over them, I am going to take this brief, private interchange reported at second hand for what it is worth: not very much at all.

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Obama to Tap Strategic Oil Reserves?

Reuters reported yesterday that President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron inked a deal to tap into the strategic oil reserves, a move that would lower the price of gas in the U.S. during an election year. The White House denied the report, but it could potentially be a trial balloon for the administration. Today, liberal Democratic members of Congress started calling for President Obama to go ahead with the plan. The Hill reports:

Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.), longtime proponents of releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, said Friday they are gathering support for the letter and hope to send it to Obama next week. …

“We are writing you because we believe that it is essential that the United States have an aggressive strategy for releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to combat the speculators capitalizing on the fear in oil markets and to send a message to Iran that we are ready, willing and able to deploy our oil reserves,” the letter says.

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Reuters reported yesterday that President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron inked a deal to tap into the strategic oil reserves, a move that would lower the price of gas in the U.S. during an election year. The White House denied the report, but it could potentially be a trial balloon for the administration. Today, liberal Democratic members of Congress started calling for President Obama to go ahead with the plan. The Hill reports:

Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.), longtime proponents of releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, said Friday they are gathering support for the letter and hope to send it to Obama next week. …

“We are writing you because we believe that it is essential that the United States have an aggressive strategy for releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to combat the speculators capitalizing on the fear in oil markets and to send a message to Iran that we are ready, willing and able to deploy our oil reserves,” the letter says.

And, of course, the plan would banish one of the major obstacles to Obama’s reelection:

Moving to tap the four giant Gulf Coast salt caverns that hold 700 million barrels of government-owned crude would still almost certainly knock global oil futures lower, delivering some relief at the pump for motorists and helping Obama in the November election if he can prevent gasoline from rising above $4 a gallon nationwide.

It would also be an unprecedented exploitation of presidential power for election-year gain. The U.S. has tapped into strategic oil reserves in the past, but only when there have been significant disruptions to the global oil supply – for example, during Desert Storm and Hurricane Katrina. This would be the first case in which the reserves would be used to deal with a politically inconvenient spike in gas prices, CNN reports:

Each case included a major disruption in global oil supply.

The market is tight today, but there is no major supply disruption to speak of.

The real driver of rising prices is geopolitical risk associated with Iran. Concerns over the country’s nuclear program have sparked a new round of sanctions by Western countries, and Iranian retaliation could put a major kink in global crude supply.

But supply isn’t being hit now, making any preemptive release look like an effort to keep the economy on solid footing during an election year.

Not only would this set an alarming precedent, it also carries risks. Dipping into the strategic oil reserves in a non-emergency situation means  there will be less resources in the event of a real, long-term disruption in the global oil market – a possibility that’s not hard to imagine considering the situation in Iran at the moment.

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Reagan and Thatcher, Cameron and Obama

Ted Bromund’s post about the cringe-producing exchange of jokes between President Obama and British Prime Minister Cameron reminded me — in a contrasting way — of the exchange between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher 31 years ago, at a dinner at the British Embassy that capped Thatcher’s February 1980 Washington trip. She was the first foreign visitor during the Reagan administration; Reagan was in his first month and Thatcher in her first year.

The toasts were included in the batch of documents released last year by the Margaret Thatcher Foundation, after the required 30-year delay. The exchange featured a good deal of historical humor, and a historical courage that can be more fully appreciated from our vantage point, three decades later. Here are excerpts from the toasts, followed by the concluding portion of Obama’s toast this week to Cameron:

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Ted Bromund’s post about the cringe-producing exchange of jokes between President Obama and British Prime Minister Cameron reminded me — in a contrasting way — of the exchange between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher 31 years ago, at a dinner at the British Embassy that capped Thatcher’s February 1980 Washington trip. She was the first foreign visitor during the Reagan administration; Reagan was in his first month and Thatcher in her first year.

The toasts were included in the batch of documents released last year by the Margaret Thatcher Foundation, after the required 30-year delay. The exchange featured a good deal of historical humor, and a historical courage that can be more fully appreciated from our vantage point, three decades later. Here are excerpts from the toasts, followed by the concluding portion of Obama’s toast this week to Cameron:

[The Prime Minister]: Mr. President, an earlier visitor to the United States, Charles Dickens, described our American friends as by nature frank, brave, cordial, hospitable, and affectionate. That seems to me, Mr. President, to be a perfect description of the man who has been my host for the last 48 hours. (Applause.) …

Charles Dickens, like me, also visited Capitol Hill. He described the congressmen he met there as “striking to look at, hard to deceive, prompt to act, lions in energy, Americans in strong and general impulse.” Having been there and agreeing with Dickens as I do, I’m delighted to see so many Members of Congress here this evening. And if Dickens was right, relations between the legislative and executive branches should be smooth indeed over the next four years. After all, “prompt to act and lions in energy” should mean, Mr. President, you’ll get that expenditure cutting program through very easily indeed. (Laughter. Applause.) …

California, of course, has always meant a great deal to my countrymen from the time, almost exactly 400 years ago, when one of our greatest national heroes, Sir Francis Drake, proclaimed it New Albion in keeping with the bravado of the Elizabethan Age. This feeling of community and curiosity that we have about California exists in the present age when another of our household names made his career there, one of the greatest careers in show business. I refer to Mr. Bob Hope, who is here this evening, and whom we like to claim is partly ours because he was born in the United Kingdom, though he decided to leave when he was only four years old. (Laughter.) …

I hope you didn’t feel ill at ease as you came up the stairs and passed under the gaze of George III. (Laughter.) I can assure you that we British have long since come to see that George was wrong and that Thomas Jefferson was right when he wrote to James Madison that “a little rebellion now and then is a good thing.” (Laughter.) …

It’s not the time, Mr. President, for me to talk at any length about the relations between our two countries except to say that they are profoundly and deeply right. And beyond that, we perhaps don’t have to define them in detail. …

There will, of course, be times, Mr. President, when yours perhaps is the loneliest job in the world, times when you need what one of my great friends in politics once called “two o’clock in the morning courage.” There will be times when you go through rough water. There will be times when the unexpected happens. There will be times when only you can make a certain decision. It is at that time when you need the two o’clock in the morning courage. … And what it requires is a knowledge on your part that whatever decision you make you have to stick with the consequences and see it through until it be well and truly finished. …

I want to say this to you, Mr. President, that when those moments come, we here in this room, on both sides of the Atlantic, have in you total faith that you will make the decision which is right for protecting the liberty of common humanity in the future. You will make that decision that we as partners in the English-speaking world know that, as Wordsworth wrote, “We must be free or die who speak the tongue that Shakespeare spake.”

[The President]: Bob Hope will know what I mean when I speak in the language of my previous occupation and say you are a hard act to follow. (Laughter. Applause.) … And may I say that I do know something about that “two o’clock courage,” but I also know that you have already shown that two o’clock courage on too many occasions to name. (Applause.) …

[Y]ou know, Prime Minister, that we have a habit of quoting Winston Churchill. Tell me, is it possible to get through a public address today in Britain without making reference to him? It is increasingly difficult to do so here, not just because we Americans share some pride in his ancestry, but because there’s so much to learn from him, his fearlessness, and I don’t just mean physical courage. I mean he was, for instance, unafraid to laugh. I can remember words attributed to Churchill about one somber, straight-laced colleague in Parliament. Churchill said, “He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.” (Laughter.) …

When he addressed Parliament in the darkest moments after Dunkirk, Churchill dared to promise the British their finest hour and even reminded them that they would someday enjoy, quote, “the bright, sunlit uplands,” unquote, from which the struggle against Hitler would be seen as only a bad memory. Well, Madam Prime Minister, you and I have heard our share of somber assessments and dire predictions in recent months. I do not refer here to the painful business of ending our economic difficulties. We know that with regard to the economies of both our countries we will be home safe and soon enough.

I do refer, however, to those adversaries who preach the supremacy of the state. We’ve all heard the slogans, the end of the class struggle, the vanguard of the proletariat, the wave of the future, the inevitable triumph of socialism. Indeed, if there’s anything the Marxist-Leninists might not be forgiven for it is their willingness to bog the world down in tiresome cliches, cliches that rapidly are being recognized for what they are, a gaggle of bogus prophecies and petty superstitions. … I wonder if you and I and other leaders of the West should not now be looking toward bright, sunlit uplands and begin planning for a world where our adversaries are remembered only for their role in a sad and rather bizarre chapter in human history.

The British people, who nourish the great civilized ideas, know the forces of good ultimately rally and triumph over evil. That, after all, is the legend of the Knights of the Round Table, the legend of the man who lived on Baker Street, the story of London in the Blitz, the meaning of the Union Jack snapping briskly in the wind. Madam Prime Minister, I’ll make one further prediction, that the British people are once again about to pay homage to their beloved Sir Winston by doing him the honor of proving him wrong and showing the world that their finest hour is yet to come, and how he would have loved the irony of that. How proud it would have made him.

At the beginning of his administration, Obama returned Churchill’s bust to Britain, insulted its prime minister on his trip to Washington (with no state dinner nor even a full-blown press conference), gave him a demeaning set of DVDs for a gift, and stayed silent as a State Department official explained “there’s nothing special about Britain. You’re just the same as the other 190 countries in the world. You shouldn’t expect special treatment.”

This week, in his toast at the state dinner for Cameron, Obama did not mention Reagan or Thatcher, or what they achieved together. He did, however, mention Churchill:

So, in closing, let me just say that I intended to make history tonight. I thought that I could be the first American President to make it through an entire visit of our British friends without quoting Winston Churchill. (Laughter.) But then I saw this great quote and I thought, “Come on, this is Churchill!” (Laughter.) So I couldn’t resist.

It was December 1941, and the attack on Pearl Harbor had finally thrust America into war, alongside our British friends. And these were the words Sir Winston spoke to his new American partners: “I will say that he must indeed have a blind soul who cannot see that some great purpose and design is being worked out here below, of which we have the honor to be the faithful servants.”

And so I’d like to propose a toast:  To Her Majesty the Queen, on her Diamond Jubilee; to our dear friends, David and Samantha; and to the great purpose and design of our alliance. May we remain, now and always, its faithful servants. Cheers, everyone.

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Who Writes This Stuff?

Going from Churchill’s subtle and magisterial “Iron Curtain” speech at Fulton, on which Seth commented yesterday, to Obama’s remarks at the White House in welcome to David Cameron is like going from Paganini to the village fiddler. Honestly, who writes this stuff? The joke about the British burning the White House in 1814 was funny enough when Tony Blair used it in 2003 in his speech to a joint session of Congress:

On our way down here, Senator Frist was kind enough to show me the fireplace where, in 1814, the British had burnt the Congress Library. I know this is kind of late, but sorry.

But no joke stays funny if it gets recycled often enough, and a decade later, it’s become a lame and tiresome jest. And yet Obama, that modern master of rhetoric, and Cameron, who must have groaned when he read the script, used it again yesterday. Quoth Obama:

It’s now been 200 years since the British came here, to the White House – under somewhat different circumstances. (Laughter.) They made quite an impression. (Laughter.) They really lit up the place. (Laughter.)

This isn’t a presidential welcome – it reads, and it sounded, like a third-rate stand-up comedian living on stolen jokes.

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Going from Churchill’s subtle and magisterial “Iron Curtain” speech at Fulton, on which Seth commented yesterday, to Obama’s remarks at the White House in welcome to David Cameron is like going from Paganini to the village fiddler. Honestly, who writes this stuff? The joke about the British burning the White House in 1814 was funny enough when Tony Blair used it in 2003 in his speech to a joint session of Congress:

On our way down here, Senator Frist was kind enough to show me the fireplace where, in 1814, the British had burnt the Congress Library. I know this is kind of late, but sorry.

But no joke stays funny if it gets recycled often enough, and a decade later, it’s become a lame and tiresome jest. And yet Obama, that modern master of rhetoric, and Cameron, who must have groaned when he read the script, used it again yesterday. Quoth Obama:

It’s now been 200 years since the British came here, to the White House – under somewhat different circumstances. (Laughter.) They made quite an impression. (Laughter.) They really lit up the place. (Laughter.)

This isn’t a presidential welcome – it reads, and it sounded, like a third-rate stand-up comedian living on stolen jokes.

And Cameron’s reply was equally cringe-inducing:

So I am a little embarrassed, as I stand here, to think that 200 years ago – (laughter) – my ancestors tried to burn the place down. (Laughter.)  Now, looking around me, I can see you’ve got the place a little better defended today. (Laughter.)  You’re clearly not taking any risks with the Brits this time. (Laughter.)

Please, make it stop.

I decided a long time ago that Obama is only a great speaker if you like him before he opens his mouth. His oratory serves not to persuade, or to inspire, but to affirm. Unlike Churchill, who always presented an argument when he spoke, Obama usually speaks to present a conclusion. If you don’t agree with his conclusion, there’s nothing in his words to make you change your mind, and his reliance on jokey humor in his more informal remarks doesn’t help.

Look – writing welcoming remarks must be a tedious job, and I wouldn’t like to do it for anything. But would it be too much to ask that his speechwriters avoid obvious solecisms? If you’re going to use the tired “the British burned the White House” joke, don’t follow it up, two paragraphs later, with the claim that “through the grand sweep of history, through all its twists and turns, there is one constant – the rock-solid alliance between the United States and the United Kingdom.” So, except for the whole burning thing, it’s a constant?

No one is a more enthusiastic supporter of the Anglo-American alliance than I am, and I mean that literally. But it’s just not true that the alliance is a constant. It reflects, yes, shared interests, but it was also made, with considerable effort and by taking real political risks, by leaders like Churchill. That was the point of the speech at Fulton – not to celebrate the war-time alliance, but to make the case for its continuance in the nascent Cold War.

But when Obama says that “the relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom is the strongest that it has ever been,” just after his administration has announced a “strategic pivot” to Asia and refused to back Britain over the Falklands, he’s not taking any risks, or making any effort, for the alliance at all. He’s just talking. And truly great speakers, like Churchill, don’t believe that assertions can substitute for arguments or actions.

 

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Churchill, Truman, and the Origins of a Modern Alliance

In October 1945, Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King came to see Winston and Clementine Churchill at their new London townhouse. Churchill’s party had lost the elections in a landslide earlier in the year, just as Churchill was trying to negotiate postwar Europe at Potsdam. When the butler brought them vodka sent as a gift from Moscow, Clementine told him to throw it out and bring brandy instead.

“King would soon discover the symbolism of this,” writes Philip White, as he recounts the story in his new book Our Supreme Task: How Winston Churchill’s Iron Curtain Speech Defined the Cold War Alliance. The symbolism was that Churchill was about to begin in earnest his post-premiership mission: to alert the world of the threat of Soviet Communism and forge a hardy alliance with the United States. Though the speech is among the most famous modern addresses, the background and analysis White offers are valuable. And there are two stories with immediate relevance as British Prime Minister David Cameron spends the day in Washington today with President Obama, awaiting his state dinner tonight.

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In October 1945, Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King came to see Winston and Clementine Churchill at their new London townhouse. Churchill’s party had lost the elections in a landslide earlier in the year, just as Churchill was trying to negotiate postwar Europe at Potsdam. When the butler brought them vodka sent as a gift from Moscow, Clementine told him to throw it out and bring brandy instead.

“King would soon discover the symbolism of this,” writes Philip White, as he recounts the story in his new book Our Supreme Task: How Winston Churchill’s Iron Curtain Speech Defined the Cold War Alliance. The symbolism was that Churchill was about to begin in earnest his post-premiership mission: to alert the world of the threat of Soviet Communism and forge a hardy alliance with the United States. Though the speech is among the most famous modern addresses, the background and analysis White offers are valuable. And there are two stories with immediate relevance as British Prime Minister David Cameron spends the day in Washington today with President Obama, awaiting his state dinner tonight.

We remember Harry Truman as a hero and a visionary–and rightly so–but Truman was himself in awe of Churchill. When Truman met Churchill in Missouri, and the two prepared to spend a train ride in conversation, Truman asked Churchill to call him Harry. Churchill said he would, but only if Truman would call him Winston. Truman balked. “I just don’t know if I can do that,” he said. “I have such admiration for you and what you mean, not only to your people, but to this country and the world.”

Humble giants, they were. Today we are lucky to just get the humility from our leaders. The second story is one of nuance–something Churchill wasn’t known for, certainly, but at one point in his famous Fulton speech deployed with utter genius. Here is an otherwise forgettable and forgotten paragraph from the speech:

The president has told you that it is his wish, as I am sure it is yours, that I should have full liberty to give my true and faithful counsel in these anxious and baffling times. I shall certainly avail myself of this freedom, and feel the more right to do so because any private ambitions I may have cherished in my younger days have been satisfied beyond my wildest dreams. Let me however make it clear that I have no official mission or status of any kind, and that I speak only for myself. There is nothing here but what you see.

In a footnote, White adds that when he discussed that last line with Larry Arnn, the latter pointed out the subtle brilliance of it. As White writes:

What the audience saw was the former prime minister flanked by the president of the United States and his leading advisers. So, if they focused on “nothing” but what was in front of them, they, and Stalin, could not fail to behold unity between Churchill and Truman–and, ergo, Britain and America.

The symbolism of that, too, is important. So is the seemingly insignificant incident of the Obama team’s removal of the bust of Churchill kept in the Oval Office during the presidency of George W. Bush. The Obama White House explained that “every president puts his own stamp on the Oval Office.” Indeed they do.

We also have the Obama administration’s failure on two separate occasions to support British sovereignty over the Falkland Islands. This is a painfully easy call, and you would have to go out of your way to get it wrong and needlessly insult our allies–which Obama did.

The Republican candidates for president have been critical of the president’s dismissive attitude toward the British, so you might imagine Cameron, leader of his country’s conservatives, would drop them a line to say hello, the way Gordon Brown met with Obama and Hillary Clinton during the 2008 election when he came to visit Bush. The Telegraph reports this is not to be the case, though Cameron will be meeting important figures, such as “the actor starring in the American television series ‘Homeland.’” The Telegraph explains:

Downing Street aides insist that there is no “snub” to the Republicans by not meeting the presidential candidates. Senior sources say that the schedule was organized by the White House.

If only Cameron had a scheduler of his own! Or access to a phone. But don’t fault Cameron for his priorities, for although he does not arrive bearing the bust of Winston Churchill or with the promise of support over the Falklands, Obama did give him a lift on Air Force One.

As in 1946, “There is nothing here but what you see.” A bit less inspiring today, however.

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