Commentary Magazine


Obama’s Low Regard for British Democracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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