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Features

Obama’s Brexit overreach is typical of his arrogance

The British politicians counting on his endorsement don’t understand the resentment he can cause

23 April 2016

9:00 AM

23 April 2016

9:00 AM

Nobody could describe Donald Trump as lacking in self-confidence, but the billionaire egomaniac is emotional jelly compared with King Barack. Even before he won the Nobel peace prize, Obama was telling America that his elevation to the presidency would be remembered as ‘the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow’. He doesn’t have Mr Trump’s gold-plated helicopter, private jet, penthouse and yacht. But when it comes to self-reverence and sheer hauteur there is no one to beat him.

Someone who believes his political personality can reverse global warming will have no doubts about his ability to persuade the British people to stay in the European Union. Just a few of his mellifluous sentences and a flash of those teeth and surely the British people will go weak at the knees! The polls show that Britain is split on the EU, so King Barack will come and help the nation resolve its indecision — to the delight of David Cameron and George Osborne.

The timing of his visit, halfway through the EU referendum debate, is no accident. There is a longstanding international understanding that world leaders don’t visit during election campaigns — but such conventions were obviously designed for lesser mortals. Obama has no qualms and the Prime Minister has no shame: he needs every endorsement he can get. The Chancellor is pulling all the strings he can so the likes of the IMF’s Christine Lagarde ask us to stay in. Short of engineering a Second Coming, a visitation from King Barack is to their minds the best plug imaginable.

That enthusiasm does not seem to be shared as much by British voters. Polls show that only 4 per cent of us think Mr -Obama’s primary reason for wanting us to stay in the EU is because ‘he cares about Britain’. A majority of us recognise that Mr Obama finds it easier ‘to deal with Europe as one bloc’.

It’s not, as some Tory MPs have alleged, that Obama hates Britain. It’s just that he cares less about us — and our neighbours — than any of his recent predecessors. The ‘pivot’ to Asia, turning America’s strategic gaze away from Europe and towards the Pacific, has been his chief international objective. The turmoil in Europe and the Middle East — the Ukraine and Syrian refugee crises which have, at the very least, been encouraged by US withdrawal from the world — were distractions from his focus on China and the rising economies of East Asia. The world has not become a safer place as a result of Obama’s policy of ‘leading from behind’.


It’s natural that Britain’s admirers want us to stay in the EU. As the former Australian PM, Tony Abbott, recently put it, ‘There is no international problem that British involvement doesn’t improve’, and ‘no international organisation that British membership doesn’t help’. Abbott, Obama and countless other global politicians don’t worry much about what EU membership means for the British economy or British democracy. They simply want us to put our national interests second and the wider interest first. Few of them would allow citizens of much poorer neighbouring states to have full rights to live and work in their countries or let foreign courts change their laws. But that, apparently, is what Britain should accept.

The arrogance is breathtaking but it is far from the only manifestation of, dare I say it, the madness of King Barack. Mr Obama does not let any adviser, voter or foreign leader get in his way. During his two-term presidency, his Democratic party has lost control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. But King Barack was unimpressed at the verdicts of the people. By royal decree, or as the White House calls it, executive order, he has attempted to stop illegal immigrants being deported, increase the minimum wage, intensify gun regulation and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

All of these policies may be cheered from Europe. But the US constitution is quite clear: it’s the job of the House of Representatives and the Senate to pass laws and it’s the job of the President to either veto or implement them. There is a word for ignoring and overruling the legislative branches of the American government and that word is ‘undemocratic’.

It was not supposed to be this way when Mr Obama launched his transformational bid for the presidency. He came to national attention with an uplifting speech to the 2004 Democratic Convention. He told his party about gay Americans living in red-leaning Republican states and how blue-leaning Democratic states worshipped ‘an awesome God’. There weren’t red states or blue states but ‘one America: red, white, and blue’. An America demoralised by the Iraq war, the global recession and bitterness towards the often tongue-tied George W. Bush embraced Obama and his soaring oratory in 2008, in the hope that he would unite an unhappy, fractious nation.

It has not come to pass, of course. Whether it’s the Black Lives Matter protests at police violence or the fact that only 1 per cent of Americans think the people who caused the 2008 crash have been brought to justice, the American left is as energised and angry as the right. Today, barely a quarter of Americans think their country is heading in the right direction. They are more pessimistic about their economic prospects than the Brits or Germans.

You would, perhaps, expect the American right to be angry, because Mr Obama does little to build ties with them. He didn’t attend the funeral of the conservative Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia or that of Nancy Reagan — choosing to speak at a music festival instead. But his lack of respect and charity is not confined to Republicans. It recently emerged that Obama declined to invite the Clintons to dinner at the White House because Michelle, the First Lady, has struggled to forgive Bill Clinton for criticising her husband.

Jeffrey Goldberg’s extraordinary recent essay in the Atlantic magazine about Obama’s foreign policy gave insight after insight into the President’s arrogance. Angela Merkel is ‘one of the few foreign leaders Obama respects’. When Obama reversed his Syrian policy and decided that President Assad’s crossing of those famous ‘red lines’ would not, after all, be punished, his secretary of state, John Kerry, and defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, found out hours after he’d told his advisers. It’s a common experience for so many of his colleagues. Hillary Clinton was overruled on Syria, generals were overruled on Iraq. Obama blamed David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy for the Libyan ‘shit show’. It is never King Barack’s fault.

Obama’s election in 2008 inspired the world. But after eight years, it’s hard not to blame his abrasive style of politics for the rise of anti-politicians such as Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Americans are rebelling against the emergence of an imperial presidency. As Barack Obama offers his hand to the Queen this week, and lectures the British on their place in the world, voters here might feel somewhat resentful, too.

Tim Montgomerie is a writer for The Times

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