June 27, 2016
A few years ago a British Member of Parliament, who had been there for 13 years, took me on a tour of the building, complete with a history lecture to go with the paintings and engravings there. Our conversation turned to foreign policy, and the MP (whose name I won’t mention here), smiled knowingly and said, “You want to know what the Foreign Office is going to do? Just call the State Department.”
Today there is a lovely front page article in the New York Times which makes the same point, sharing some views that “no American diplomat would utter in public for fear of offending other members of the European Union.” As is generally the case with political developments in Europe, the real concern in Washington is all about power:
No country shares Washington’s worldview quite the way Britain does, they say; it has long been the United States’ most willing security ally, most effective intelligence partner and greatest enthusiast of the free-trade mantras that have been a keystone of America’s internationalist approach. And few nations were as willing to put a thumb as firmly on the scales of European debates in ways that benefit the United States.
So, while most people to the left of center are mourning Brexit — for more progressive reasons, such as the right-wing, xenophobic leadership that led the movement to leave the EU — let’s look on the bright side for a moment.
For those of us who care about the little things, like the New Cold War with Russia and the increased risk of nuclear war, the probability of these and other disasters may have receded a bit with Brexit. Germany was divided, with strong opposition from the business community, on the sanctions against Russia when they were imposed. The NYT article notes that:
… American officials were shocked recently when Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, warned that recent NATO exercises to deter Russia from thinking about destabilizing Poland and the Baltic members of the military alliance amounted to “saber-rattling and warmongering.”
Tony Blair was George W. Bush’s main ally in the Iraq War and without him it may never have happened. And as President Obama has noted, “ISIL is direct outgrowth of al Qaeda in Iraq, which grew out of our invasion…”
Which, together with US policy in Syria, Libya, and the Middle East generally, has given us the refugee crisis that helped drive the Brexit vote.
Back in 2014, some EU leaders expressed concern about US-backed attempts to topple the elected government of Ukraine, worried about the possibility of setting off a civil war there. The State Department official in charge of the situation was Victoria Nuland, a hard-line neoconservative who remains today the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs. Her response was leaked in a recorded telephone conversation: “Fuck the EU.”
Nuland, a Hillary protégé, could again play an important foreign policy role in a Hillary Clinton administration.
UK voters may have decided to follow Nuland’s advice for other reasons, but a European Union without the UK would be somewhat less likely to support reckless US military adventurism and other foreign policy disasters. Now there’s a silver lining.