Obama and the Brexit crisis
No sooner had Obama’s outburst been publicized than the White House reaffirmed America’s “special relationship” with the UK. For the US president is shortly to visit London to endorse the campaign led by Cameron to persuade British people to vote for continued UK membership of the European Union in the referendum on the issue on June 27. Yet many will feel that Obama was spelling out the shameful truth: That the Anglo-French air strikes that precipitated the downfall of the Libyan ruler Col. Gaddafi culminated in a shocking abrogation of responsibility.
Vying with Sarkozy in his narcissistic posturing, Cameron pledged to the people of Libya that he would stand by them. That the UK has done no such thing is abundantly apparent. So acute is the disorder in the country that few western journalists dare to set foot in it. Now fresh western military intervention in Libya is mooted. Not that Libya seems to be much on Cameron’s mind. From his public utterances you would hardly guess that the place existed.
Still, for all the justice of his criticism, one might wonder how Obama can credibly arraign any country’s foreign policy against the background of the calamitous military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq instigated by his presidential predecessor, George W. Bush. Consider, too, that the Obama administration was centrally involved in the Libyan intervention, with the US role in the operation directed by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Though no Anglophile, Obama will fly into London as Britain’s best American friend. US alarm that “Brexit” (British exit from the EU) could de-stabilise Europe — thereby handing a major strategic advantage to Russian President Vladimir Putin — is extreme. The possibility of “Brexit” has been greatly exacerbated by the European refugee and migrant crisis. It is a crisis that might never have erupted but for the convulsive wars fought by George W. Bush, with former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair as his obsequious ally. Yet to suggest any such thing is taboo. The amnesiac consensus is that the crisis derives from the chaotic consequences of the war in Syria, the blame for it variously ascribed to Syrian President Bashar Assad, Daesh and the Russian president.
In truth, if the Europe Union were to implode, it would be an implosion with roots in the folly of the “special relationship.” Before they declared war on Iraq in 2003, Bush and Blair proclaimed that they were going to rid the world of a monstrous tyrant in the person of the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and turn Iraq into an exemplary democratic state. What grows ever clearer is that they gave but token attention to the aftermath of the war. Wiser counsels were brushed aside by cocksure politicians bent on cutting heroic figures on the world stage. In a scathing new book about Blair, Broken Vows: the Tragedy of Power, the British journalist Tom Bower portrays a politician whose vanity and mindless impetuosity rendered him unfit to be entrusted with decisions of grave import. Warned that invading Iraq might envenom relations between its Shiite and Sunni communities, Blair retorted: “That’s all history. This is about the future.”
David Cameron’s intervention in Libya was scarcely less cavalier, scarcely less calculated to yield lamentable results; if he has been spared the bitter recriminations and endless inquiries Blair has faced over Iraq it is because British servicemen have not been dying in Libya. The debacle has not gained traction as a public issue.
Many things have contributed to the turmoil engulfing Europe and the Middle East. But not the least of them has been the crackbrained pursuit of glory by UK leaders desperate to keep up Britain’s pretentions as a pre-eminent force in world affairs. In bygone times, its swollen empire made Britain a dangerous country. As the “Brexit” crisis attests, Britain remains a dangerous country, even though its imperial power has long vanished.
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