So, the most isolationist, non-interventionist American President since Jimmy Carter is coming to London to interfere in the matters of a sovereign state, or rather, a semi sovereign state given that it is beyond doubt a member of the EU agrees to pool some of its sovereignty. The only debate is the amount. Whatever that is – President Obama wants it to be maintained and will say so.
‘And what’s it got to do with him?’ You may well ask, indeed it is a question that will be asked by various British politicians, media outlets and members of the public this week. Already 100 members of Her Majesty’s Parliament have signed a letter effectively telling the ‘Leader of the Free World’ to mind his own business.
The problem with the letter, and its sentiments, is that this is, up to a point, the business of an American President, and that obligates him to take a position.
This will of course be deeply political, and yes, an interference in British politics. The Brits may have lost the War of Independence, but that was about American independence, not British and this is going to cause a lot of angst.
It will be a blow, of what importance we don’t know, to the Brexiteers, which is precisely why they are so alarmed at the prospect of an American President taking a position on a British referendum. One of their key arguments is that the UK can prosper outside of the EU by forging better trade and diplomatic relationships with the Anglosphere and the Commonwealth. If the most powerful nation in the Anglosphere disagrees that is, at the least, awkward.
Of course many anti-authority Brits may react to Obama’s intervention with a two fingered sign going all the way back to Agincourt, but I suspect more will give pause for thought. Obama may have had a weak, unimpressive foreign policy, but he remains the leader of the world’s most powerful country and what he says still has huge influence.
The American foreign policy establishment from the White House, to the State Department, to the Department of Defense and beyond, believes, quite reasonably, that a Brexit will put the EU on the trajectory of breaking apart.
Why should they care? Because a weakened, or disintegrated EU will be unable to challenge Russia with an integrated foreign policy regarding trade, energy supplies, sanctions, and banking regulations. A UK outside of a weakened EU would not be in a position to be a friendly eyes and ears inside the remaining EU, nor influence the negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. The Americans will also be closely watching the effects of the referendum on the global markets.
You may hold the view that a weakened EU is a good thing, but that does not mean that its prospect is not something an American President can comment on.
So, lunch with Queen on Friday to wish her a happy 90th birthday, a joint press conference with David Cameron, and a ‘town hall’ meeting with young people the following day. At some point during this President Obama will ‘vote’ in the British referendum
Some media outlets and politicians may huff and puff about it, some may exaggerate his words into more than they will be – a straightforward, if slightly disguised view that he’s ‘voting Remain’, but none of that will mean that this has nothing to do with him, or his country.