At his press conference with Prime Minister David Cameron on April 22 in London, President Obama took up the subject of Churchill. “I love Winston Churchill, love the guy,” Obama asserted, and it wasn’t the phoniest thing he had to say at the press conference. That was reserved for the subject of the United Kingdom’s continued membership in the European Union. The issue is to be put to the Brits in a referendum on June 23.
Cameron had called on Obama to support Cameron’s case against withdrawal. Obama obliged in the style to which we have all grown accustomed in the course of the past eight years. I thought Obama’s performance was patronizing, threatening and otherwise offensive. Obama even somehow managed to pull a race card from the deck. It was quite a performance (video below).
Obama has prevailed in the popularity contests that led to his election, but I don’t think Obama has ever persuaded anybody on the merits of anything. How did his case to the Brits go over?
Over at the Washington Examiner Daniel Hannan reports that “Barack bombed in Britain.” Hannan describes the Obama way: “[T]he president came to London to tell us to vote to stay in the European Union. He didn’t hint or suggest or imply. He told us bluntly that, if we left the EU, we’d go ‘to the back of the queue’ when it came to signing trade deals with Washington.”
Here is the heart of Hannan’s column:
[A]lthough people admire Obama, they hate being hectored. The president’s choice of vocabulary — when is the last time you heard an American say “back of the queue”? — made Brits wonder whether he was reciting lines drawn up in Downing Street. In other words, they suspected that David Cameron was using foreign leaders to bully and threaten his own country.
In any case, “back of the queue” is not the sort of thing you say to a friend. Outside the Westminster bubble, the general reaction was: “We’re not at the back of the bloody queue when you need allies in your wars[.]”
Nor, more to the point, did people believe the president. The US and the EU are currently negotiating a lumbering agreement called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Note that it isn’t even called a free trade deal, because it is at least as much about regulation and standardization as it is about liberalization. Because TTIP involves the US and 28 EU states, it is slow and limited. Many European states want to protect their agriculture, textiles, audio-visual sectors and so on.
As Ted Bromund of the Heritage Foundation puts it: “Negotiations with Britain could be completed faster than other pending U.S. negotiations, because the kind of trade treaty the U.S. should seek with Britain is different from the all-encompassing large-bloc Agreements the Administration has pursued in the Pacific and the Atlantic.” The French may have a problem with Hollywood blockbusters. The Brits don’t.
Where the commentariat saw, or affected to see, two national leaders talking about serious matters, the general population saw a racket: The same racket that has led to the tax-free employees of various international bodies telling them how important the EU is. They saw two back-scratching politicians who, though they might represent different countries, form one caste. They resented being told that they weren’t good enough to govern themselves.
There’s nothing wrong with expressing your opinion about another country’s politics. I do it all the time. But people bridled at the idea that Mr. Obama was telling Britain to do something that America would never countenance. What’s that phrase from the Declaration of Independence? “He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction unacknowledged by our constitution and foreign to our laws.”
The following day, Ted Cruz wrote a beautifully judged piece in the London Times, saying that it was up to Britain to vote as it wished, and that if it opted to leave the EU, America should grasp the opportunity to put a genuinely liberal free trade deal in place instead of the corporatism of TTIP. That’s surely how one ally speaks to another.
Obama loves Churchill so much that he knows that he can be gulled by a patently absurd story demonstrating his ignorance of him. And Obama has the best interests of the Brits at heart, just as he does all our allies.