Boris’ Obama attack irresponsible folly

by David Hannay | 17.04.2016

To call the leader of our closest and most powerful ally a hypocrite would be an act of irresponsible folly at the best of times. To do so when the person in question is quite widely considered to be a man of greater integrity than many who have held the office of President of the United States, as Boris Johnson has done, is to invite disbelief. This is the language of “Have I got news for you” or, if you prefer it, of Donald Trump, not the language of international diplomacy or of someone who aspires to high political office in this country.

The charge of hypocrisy is in any case based on the shakiest of foundations. The Mayor of London asserts that the United States would never contemplate the pooling of sovereignty; and backs this up by giving accurate but selective examples to prove that contention – the US failure to ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the statute establishing  an International Criminal Court. But the US has agreed to pool a part of its sovereignty in a number of highly significant instances – in NATO, in accepting the dispute settlement procedures of the World Trade Organisation, which has on several occasions overruled US trade policy measures, and in the free trade agreement it has with Canada and Mexico, the nearest thing it has to the European Union.

As to whether or not the US might ever contemplate the sort of pooling of sovereignty we have accepted in our membership of the EU, this is a fanciful and irrelevant argument. America is not a European country and cannot therefore aspire to EU membership. Moreover, successive US administrations from Truman to Obama have made no secret of the fact that they strongly support closer European cooperation, including the involvement of the UK, and believe that to be in America’s own national interest. Their reason for doing this is quite simply that, both in two world wars and during the Cold War, they have felt compelled to devote much blood and treasure to protecting the democracies of Europe, and that, in their estimation, closer European cooperation made, and still makes, a crucial contribution to that objective. In the past 70 years the expression of that view has never before elicited an accusation of hypocrisy.

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Is it in some way improper for the President now to repeat that view of the US national interest? Is that hypocritical? Well our government had no hesitation about quite recently telling members of the US Congress who were trying to overturn the nuclear agreement with Iran that we supported that agreement on the grounds of our national interest, and we were surely within our rights to explain our views in that way, even though we would never have accepted the constraints on our own nuclear programme that Iran had agreed to do.

So, if and when, later this week, Obama tells us the inconvenient truth that our closest ally would deplore it if we were to decide to leave the EU, we should  surely summon up the courtesy to listen and to factor that view into our own deliberations. It is perfectly legitimate to contest it as the Leave campaign is doing. But this should be done temperately and politely. And they should at least avoid the trap of suggesting that we know better what is in the US national interest than does the President of the United States.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

3 Responses to “Boris’ Obama attack irresponsible folly”

  • Boris Johnson’s behaviour over Europe is one of the most unedifying spectacles of modern political times. He is clearly too intelligent (academically, that is, not emotionally!) to believe the nonsense he is spouting – and of which there was very little evidence in the past.

    In a naked play for the leadership of the Conservative party he has put personal self-aggrandisement above the interests of the country. If he sees himself as a latter day Churchill he is making a very poor shot at it – in fact he is making a fool of himself.

    The combination of Boris’s seductive (if dishonest) demagoguery and the significant swell of delusional and nostalgia-laden Little-Englanderism among large swathes of died-in-the-wool Brexiteers & UKIP-ers is potentially lethal.

    I can only hope that the official Remain campaign can bring itself to put the boot into Boris Johnson before he puts it into all of us.

  • The stress and pressure of the campaign is starting to tell I think:
    “To do so when the person in question is quite widely considered to be a man of greater integrity than many who have held the office of President of the United States, as Boris Johnson has done, is to invite disbelief. ” Oh no he isn’t! BJ is not and never has been president of the USA.

    Barack Obama risks misfiring. Are we really sure that, when people say “NATO is the cornerstone of our defence”, Obama’s advice to remain a member of the EU is a tactful way of saying “Oh no it isn’t!” – or at least not at the USA’s expense? The US Ambassador would be right to put the USA’s position to the Foreign Office but not really to let the President advise another nation on its vote.

    Besides, in little over 8 months, Barack Obama will not be a hypocrite as he will be nobody. It is quite legitimate to point out that Obama holds the USA’s interests currently as President but the USA continues as an entity whoever for the time being is in charge. So we should not forget that, when it comes to international organisations, the USA has been one of the most reluctant to pay its dues to the UN.

  • It’s also stupid and ignorant of Boris! The UNITED stateS is a federation of states (plural) – Obama leads this group. It would be hypocrisy on his part to favour one state leaving a block to which it belongs. There has been a move for California to leave – this is more parallel to the UK leaving the EU than is the USA refusing to join some bigger grouping. For a novice politician a grasp of such basics would have been more sensible than spending time on a dead language.