Global Independent Analytics
Danielle Ryan
Danielle Ryan

Location: Ireland

Specialization: US foreign policy, US-Russia relations and media bias

Obama Touches a British Gentle Nerve in London

If UK citizens vote to leave the EU, Obama warned, they would be pushed “to the back of the queue” for trade deals with the United States

You have to laugh at the utter bemusement that was on display in London last week as Barack Obama touched on a gentle nerve to gently advise, nay threaten, the United Kingdom over its upcoming vote on whether or not to bid farewell to the European Union.

If UK citizens vote to leave the EU, Obama warned, they would be pushed “to the back of the queue” for trade deals with the United States. Before he left London, he ramped it up a notch in an interview with the BBC, suggesting it could take as long as ten years to complete a trade deal with the UK if it leaves the European bloc.

Obama’s “odd” interference

As might be expected, pro-Brexit campaigners weren’t happy. Down with this sort of interference, they shouted. London Mayor Boris Johnson was the most vocal among them. It’s very “odd” he said, for the US, which “guards its sovereignty so zealously and jealously” to be giving “lectures” to the UK on what it should and should not be doing. “It’s very, very weird, that the United States should be telling us to do something that they would not dream of doing in a million years themselves,” he said, referring to the UK remaining part of a political and economic system which requires the sacrificing of some sovereignty for the perceived ‘greater good’ of the union at large.

But, where has Boris been living for the last few decades? Surely not on the same planet as the rest of us. The US giving lectures and issuing ultimatums to other nations, telling them to do things that they would never themselves do, is pretty much standard fare these days. There’s nothing “odd” or “weird” about this at all, Boris. It’s completely normal. You’re just not used to being on the receiving end.

But we’re special, right?

Tory Justice Minister Dominic Raab was having none of it, either. “Lame duck” Obama, he said, won’t be able to “blackmail” the British people. “You can’t say on the one hand that the US-UK special relationship is as strong as ever and always will be, and in the next breath say: take my advice or you go to the back of the queue,” Raab fumed.

Oh, but they can. They can do whatever they please — and London has been one of the great enablers. On an average day, it’s the UK and its leaders nodding along like enthusiastic puppies while Washington lectures everyone else. But when the tables are turned, interference isn’t so pleasant. Maybe the “special relationship” isn’t really that special after all?

Of course, Obama has merely issued some strongly-worded ‘advice’ as a favor to anti-Brexit ally David Cameron — which, he suggested, is what honest friends do. But to outside observers, it sounded like an ultimatum, and not in a non-mafia kind of way.  To add insult to injury, Obama was hardly shy about admitting precisely why he is anti-Brexit, either. Because a trade deal with a big bloc of countries is more efficient for “us” — and as long as Washington’s happy, everything will be jolly good old chap.

He said what?

Johnson’s comments about Obama (in particular, the Sun column in which he suggested that the leader may have an “ancestral dislike” of the UK because of his “part-Kenyan” background) are getting nearly as much coverage as Obama’s weighing on the EU vote.

The Spectator, where Johnson was formerly an editor, launched a withering attack on him. The Daily Mail called his comments about the American president “astonishing” — and truly, they were astonishing — but not because they were tinged with racism and meandered aimlessly from the point at hand. No, they were astonishing because it is pathetically rare that we see European politicians muster the strength to criticize a US leader in any capacity whatsoever. Unfortunately, the fact that Johnson started babbling about Kenya allowed the focus to be shifted to that, rather than the legitimate grievance he was expressing. Johnson has a big mouth, and often his words cause more trouble than what is necessary and defeat the initial purpose for which they were uttered.

Putin or put-out?

Now contrast this with the hysteria unleashed by the mere suggestion that Russian President Vladimir Putin might have an opinion on the Brexit issue. Not a threat made by Putin, or “advice from a friend.”  But Cameron apparently has a wild imagination. He seems to believe that Putin is a threat to UK sovereignty and is on the top of the Brexit campaign. His Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said that a Brexit would “only be good news in Raqqa and Moscow.” Raqqa being ISIS’s de-facto capital in Syria, that is. Because remember, according to Western propaganda, Putin and ISIS are on the same side.

So, to recap: Obama can fly to London and actively campaign on behalf of the “remain” side — hinting at friendly threats as a mobster, and people get a bit miffed, but it blows over. Putin, on the other hand, says nothing but is an interfering devil who wants to destroy the UK. Sounds about right.

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