By MARCUS STEAD
Here’s an exclusive you won’t read anywhere else, confirmed to me buy a source close to Downing Street: Next Monday, David Cameron will fly to New York, where he will deliver a major speech on the future direction of British foreign policy to invited guests, including presidential frontrunners Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
The overriding theme of the speech will be that from now on, British foreign policy will be both consistent and ethical. He will warn that if the United States wants to continue to have a close, ‘special relationship’ with the United Kingdom, the Supreme Court must allow itself to be overruled by international courts, Congress must no longer be the ultimate decider of federal law and the USA will have to adopt an ‘open doors’ policy of unlimited immigration from Mexico and Canada. 250 years of ‘No Taxation Without Representation’ in the USA will have to come to an end.
On top of this, Mr Cameron will insist that the USA abolishes the death penalty and that Guantanamo Bay is closed within a very short period of time.
Furthermore, Mr Cameron will warn the presidential candidates, and the American people, that failure to implement his demands will result in severe trade tariffs on goods exported to the UK.
OK, so I made it up – no such visit is taking place and no such speech will be made. The whole premise is absurd and I doubt many of you were taken in by it. Any British Prime Minister who had the arrogance and the audacity to make such a speech would rightly be laughed out of the USA.
But why is it so different to the threatening, menacing speeches President Obama made during his visit to Britain last week?
We’ve now reached the stage where the entire Remain argument is based on fear, threats, hyperbole and hypothetical situations. President Obama’s speeches last week merely served to pour fuel on the flames.
Bringing Barack Obama to this country to make the case for Britain remaining in the European Union was David Cameron’s nuclear option – it was his last major role of the dice, and an act of desperation.
Most British people are little more than casual observers of American politics. To many, especially among the younger generation, President Obama is seen as a bit of a ‘cool dude’, a sort of Will Smith Hollywood ‘star’ type of leader – young (though he’s aged rapidly as President), in good shape, eloquent, humorous, personable, and able to sing and dance. He is regarded by many, especially the young, as the antithesis of his predecessor, George W Bush.
Yet it’s a very different story in the United States itself. Obama was elected president in late 2008 on a wave of optimism and hope. ‘Change is Coming’ and ‘Yes We Can’ were his slogans. This was a man who was going to draw a line under a dark, nervous period in the country’s history, dominated by terror attacks, international conflict and economic turmoil.
The reality turned out to be very different. Under President Obama, the USA’s national debt has nearly doubled from $10.6 trillion when he became President to around $19 trillion today, and is likely to increase to $20 trillion by the time he leaves office next January. Yes, that’s right – Obama has overseen the doubling of the national debt.
On foreign policy, his ‘lead from behind’ strategy has been nothing short of a disaster. On his watch, American troops have pulled out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and very soon afterwards, both nations descended into chaos.
Obama gave verbal encouragement to those involved in the Arab Spring, which saw stable, albeit undemocratic and authoritarian governments overthrown by mainly hard-line Muslim groups in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia.
The romantic reporting by the largely pro-Obama BBC News and other liberal outlets quickly began to look absurd as the Arab Spring gave way to the Islamic Winter. The Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, which replaced the secular, broadly pro-American regime led by Hosni Mubarak, was short-lived, and was duly overthrown by the country’s military.
Libya, which had enjoyed decades of stable, consistent economic prosperity and relative social harmony under the secular rule of Colonel Gaddafi, albeit one characterised as an authoritarian dictatorship, descended into disorder, violent conflict, chaos and poverty from which it has not recovered six years later. The Gaddafi era was a time of paradise in comparison to what the country has become.
By the way, the links between Gaddafi and the Lockerbie Disaster are wholly unconvincing when looked at objectively. So why did Britain and the USA turn against Gaddafi after a considerable period of friendly relations?
According to more than a few observers, Gaddafi’s plan to quit selling Libyan oil in US dollars, demanding payment instead in gold-backed “dinars” (a single African currency made from gold), was the real cause.
Gaddafi’s regime, sitting on massive amounts of gold, estimated at close to 150 tons, was also pushing other African and Middle Eastern governments to follow suit. In other words, Gaddafi was, by default, on the verge of launching a major African currency that would have rivalled both the US dollar and the euro, and been a major threat to the debt-laden Western governments.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy reportedly went so far as to call Libya a “threat” to the financial security of the world.
This seems to be the most likely reason why Obama and his buddy David Cameron were so willing to turn against an ally and see a prosperous, secular state descend into a lengthy, brutal conflict, with no end in sight, even after six years.
In Yemen, the Arab Spring was reversed when the government was overthrown by Houthi rebels in January 2015, and the country remains in a state of civil war.
The only country that can in any way proclaim the Obama-backed Arab Spring as a success is Tunisia, which remains a functioning, albeit fragile democracy.
At the same time, ISIS has taken hold in parts of Iraq and Syria on Obama’s watch, while his response has been muddled and inconsistent.
Domestically, Barack Obama fares little better. Aside from his poor track record on debt and the economy, the rise of both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders was largely down to millions of ordinary Americans becoming disillusioned with an arrogant, complacent Washington elite, of which Obama is a part, who are not on the side of regular folk who want to get on in life.
Obama’s popularity inside America has long since ebbed away, and following his actions last week, his undeserved popularity among British people took a massive hit from which it will not recover.
When Obama gave his Downing St press conference alongside David Cameron, ‘Project Fear’ turned into ‘Project Threat’. His line about Britain having to join the ‘back of the queue’ (as opposed to the American expression ‘back of the line’) was a very thinly veiled threat.
The British people do not take kindly to being threatened. It may also have escaped Mr Obama’s attention that his term of office comes to an end next January, and it is not for him to say where on the priority list his successor will place a trade agreement with an independent Britain.
For all his overblown rhetoric and bravado, Donald Trump does at least respect the right of the British people to determine their own future, as he made clear during his interview with Piers Morgan. The British people would do well not to underestimate him.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that trade between the UK and the USA is more-or-less balanced at around $57 billion each way. There is currently no trade deal in place, yet the USA is the biggest investor in the UK at $324 billion, while UK investment in the US last year was $282 billion. More than a million Americans work for British companies and more than a million Britons are employed by American companies.
Does anybody seriously believe either Trump or Hillary Clinton or any other late contender for the presidency would want to jeopardise this finely-balanced, mutually-beneficial trading relationship because the British people wish to become a self-determining, independent nation? Of course not!
However, it would do us some good to reassess the so-called ‘Special Relationship’ in light of President Obama’s comments.
We more-or-less share a language with the USA and many Brits, especially the young, consume quite a lot of American culture. Yet there are many differences, not least in humour (Americans are often baffled by our dry, subtle humour), as well as in their shiny, eternal optimism, which contrasts sharply with British subtlety and cynicism.
I like America and I like Americans, but we should always remember that it is a foreign country with different interests to ours.
When Britain ran out of money during World War I, the USA forced us to limit our Navy, and it began to overtake us as the world’s leading naval power.
In 1934, Britain had defaulted on the enormous debt from WWI, worth up to £225 billion in today’s money, which we still haven’t paid off, and probably never will.
In the darkest hours of the Second World War, just after the fall of France, the US Congress demanded almost every penny Britain owed before it would authorise the Land-Lease programme. Convoys of Royal Navy warships carried British reserves of gold bullion (worth around £25 billion in today’s money) across the Atlantic, never to return. Billions of pounds worth of notable securities went the same way, and British assets in the USA were sold off at laughably low prices.
What Britain got in return was enough support to stay in the fight against Hitler, but our economy was to be permanently weakened and the USA was to be ‘top dog’ in the world. When peace arrived in 1945, it was made on American, not British terms, and Marshall Aid came with strings to open up the British Empire to outside trade, which in turn led to its dismantling.
It wasn’t until the 1990s that secret documents came to light (probably by accident) that exposed detailed CIA involvement in the creation of a permanently united Europe in the period following the end of WWII, presumably because America was weary of involving itself in any future such wars. A unified Europe, with Britain as part of it, has remained American foreign policy ever since.
The USA’s involvement in WWII was because of its own national interests, not ours.
In 1982, the USA very nearly ruined Britain’s attempts to recapture the Falklands from the Argentinian junta. We should ask ourselves whether now, more than three decades on and with a much smaller armed forces, whether the Pentagon would side with Britain if Argentina once again seized Port Stanley?
In 1998, President Clinton forced Britain to negotiate and eventually give in to many of the demands of Sinn Fein/IRA, just around the time when the Royal Ulster Constabulary had them on the run. This process was continued by his successor, President Bush. Both Democrat and Republican parties are aware of how useful it is to play up Irish ancestry in America, and of how much fundraising money it can generate.
This is proof that UK and US national interests are not permanently entwined. The USA has one ‘special relationship’, and that is with Saudi Arabia. It is a 70-year-old pact based on oil, money and power.
Saudi Arabia has an uncomfortable amount in common with ISIS, ranging from everything from its treatment of women, to beheadings, to amputating the limbs of criminals, to blowing up ancient monuments, yet the US administrations, both Democrat and Republican barely utter a word in disapproval, and side with the country in its regional conflicts, even if it results in an illogical, inconsistent hostility towards countries like Iran.
The UK and the USA are two countries with very different national interests. The US is not a ‘friend’ who looks upon Britain in any special way. American presidents say the things they do about Britain’s relationship with the EU because it is in their national interest, not ours.
We do well to remember that.