This post was originally published on April 20, 2016, on Lindley French’s Blog Blast: Speaking Truth Unto Power:
“The State, in choosing men to serve it, takes no notice of their opinions. If they be willing faithfully to serve it, that satisfies”.
Devon, England. 20 April, 2016
Dear President Obama,
Like you, Sir, I have accepted that Britain should on balance remain a member of the European Union. My reasons for so doing I suspect reflect pretty much the same strategic rationale as your own; at a moment when the West stands on the precipice of a potentially deep abyss of risk, threat and danger it is vital the West preserves unity and unity of purpose. This week you will arrive here in my native England to engage in the Brexit debate. You must be careful and respect the issues of history, power, liberty, governance and identity driving the debate over Britain’s membership of the EU. You are also entering the fray in what is the most fractious British electoral contest I can recall in my now long history. Therefore, sir, it is vital you get the tone, the content, and indeed the respect right if you are to avoid being told in no uncertain terms where interfering ‘Yanks’ might go.
First, you ARE interfering in the internal affairs of a foreign democracy. However, if there is one foreign head of state who has the right to intervene it is the President of the United States. Our two countries share a unique bond. Moreover, you have the right to state the American national interest. Indeed, it is stated American policy to support the EU as such a US interest, even if some of the more misguided members of your Administration mistakenly confuse the political fantasy of a United States of Europe with your own United States of America. However, do not presume, Mr President, to lecture us about our own British national interest.
Second, the special strategic relationship between American and Britain is built first and foremost on power and operates at several often below the radar levels of influence. However, Britain is not a strategic convenience for the United States, and you must understand that Mr President. You must respect the fact that Britain is the world’s fifth largest economy and a top five military actor. Some analyses (Goldman Sachs) suggests that by 2030 Britain might well be Europe’s biggest economy. Moreover, given the £178bn (c$250bn) being invested in new military equipment Britain will be Europe’s strongest military power by far and again your main military ally. You must recognise the importance of the relationship to your own hard-pressed country, Mr President.
Third, democracy is in danger in Europe, Mr President, and you of all people must understand that. Specifically, you must avoid insisting the British people accept a form of governance that the United States and its people would never accept. The EU has become too distant and too remote from its citizens. It is run by a ‘we know best’ elite who interpret European treaties in a way that maximises their power at the expense of the legitimate member-states who signed them. Indeed, in your intervention you must (and with respect, sir, I insist upon the use of ‘must’) state your determination to support the people of these strategic islands and all Europeans who want the return of real democracy in Europe.
Fourth, remember who we are, Mr President. We English have fought tyrants for centuries. We created the modern world at least as much as you Americans. We paid with our blood in for liberty and democracy in Europe alongside a glorious generation of young Americans, Canadians and others. Through our language, our culture, and the institutions we gave the world, our soft power at least matches your own. Like many Britons I am willing to help lead Europe to better times as part of our transatlantic community. However, I will never be subject to an arbitrary EU and its Euro-Mandarins and you must not only accept that, but join me in my quest for EU reform.
So, Mr President, this week when you rise to speak honour who we are, respect us for what we have achieved, defend our liberty and our ancient freedoms, and acknowledge the concerns millions of us have about the EU. You may remind us of who we are and that we have never run away from a fight over Europe and that we cannot afford to do so now. Above all, Mr President, you must avoid the charge of ‘do as I say, not as I would do’ hypocrisy.
And one other thing, Mr President – understand the significance of this moment and your carefully-chosen words. You will arrive in a country torn asunder by the June 23rd referendum. In less civilised times it would not be not unreasonable to assume that this debate could have led to a second English (and I stress English) civil war. After all, many of the issues that led Oliver Cromwell and Parliament between 1642 and 1649 to fight to end the unelected and arbitrary power of King Charles I go to the very heart of how the English view power.
In 1776 your own people revolted against arbitrary imperial rule from England and created the United States of America. The American Revolution was in many ways the continuation of the English civil war and England’s Glorious Revolution of 1688. Your great President Lincoln once talked of power for the people, of the people, and by the people, the very principles at stake in the Brexit debate. Honour those principles and we will listen to you. Abandon those principles and we will wonder as a nation whatever happened to the principles your Founding Fathers enshrined in your magnificent Declaration of Independence.
Do no harm Mr President!
With very sincere respect, Julian Lindley-French.
Julian Lindley-French is an internationally-recognised strategic analyst, advisor and author, Vice-President of the Atlantic Treaty Association, CGAI Fellow, Senior Fellow of the Institute of Statecraft, Director of Europa Analytica & Distinguished Visiting Research Fellow, National Defense University, Washington DC