Because Americans love Britain, and because we are a presumptuous lot, we often advise the United Kingdom on its foreign policy. And not only the UK, but Europe. Successive US administrations have urged European nations to form a United States of Europe as an answer to the question attributed to Henry Kissinger: ‘Who do I call if I want to call Europe?’
The latest such unrequested advice was offered to your Prime Minister by no less a foreign-policy maven — see his successes in Libya, Middle East, China, Crimea — than Barack Obama. The outgoing president informed David Cameron that his administration wants to see ‘a strong United Kingdom in a strong European Union’. He seemed to assume that, in the words of the Sinatra ballad, you can’t have one without the other.
But many of us here in the US are rooting for Brexit, and not just because we want what is best for Britain. We think Brexit would be in America’s interests.
Britain has long been America’s most valuable ally. During the second world war, it was Britain that held the fort against Germany while we dithered. Not France, which quickly surrendered. Not Italy, which opportunistically lined up with Hitler. Not Spain, which that wily fascist Franco kept out of the war. You get the point: because Britain was in a position to act on its own, without consulting any so-called allies, and because it was blessed with Winston Churchill as its prime minister and war leader, as well as a willingness of its parliamentarians from all parties to cease their inter-party wars and concentrate on the more important battle, we in America benefited from a period in which we geared up our military and industry to enter the war and relieve Britain of some of its burden.
It wasn’t the last time we would be in Britain’s debt. When President George W. Bush decided to settle accounts with Saddam Hussein, you stood at our side, at least until Gordon Brown withdrew support by pulling your troops out of Basra. In retrospect, some of you consider your involvement in Iraq a mistake. But from our vantage point, even in retrospect, it was a sign that we can count on Britain to have our backs.
No one on this side of the Atlantic has any doubts that a Britain entangled in the European Union will prove a less reliable ally. Some of you might think that a good reason to stay in. But if you value continued tight cooperation between our security and military services; if you want to disassociate yourselves from the anti-American witch-hunt that has become the cornerstone of European Commission competition and tax policies; if you want to be free to cooperate with American multinationals considering residence in the UK, then Brexit is the best choice.
Americans also have an interest in keeping regulation out of the financial sector. We have our bank-bashers, as do you, and that is a good thing for both countries, since genuflecting to bankers and brokers has proved disastrous. But like you, we believe in markets, recognising that they allocate capital more efficiently than the cleverest Brussels bureaucrat. We prefer your great Scot, Adam Smith, to the current EU darling, France’s Thomas Piketty. We prefer a tax system that recognises, at least most of the time, that punishing the rich is not an effective way to tackle inequality. From our point of view, that means we prefer dealing with America’s regulatory counterparts in Britain to those in Brussels.
Almost everyone agrees that one of the cures for the world’s ills would be more rapid economic growth. America’s ability to remain an engine of such growth is enhanced by close relations with countries that are not wedded to the job-crushing EU or reliant on a currency that, without major and unlikely changes in the EU governing structure, will lurch from crisis to crisis.
Britain is such a country. We need you as a trading partner, as a voice for freer markets in a variety of world forums and as an uninhibited partner when councils of war must be held. Yes, the current US administration has not been a bastion of strength, but even so we have continued to bear a disproportionate share of the Nato defence budget. Obama’s days in office are numbered, after which it is reasonable to expect that we will recapture our reputation as a reliable ally, unless there is an improbable victory for our very own Jeremy Corbyn — the socialist Bernie Sanders.
Everyone agrees that we live in dangerous times, which make it in every country’s interest to maintain its flexibility of action. America’s flexibility would be enhanced were we able to deal with a Britain unshackled from the EU bureaucracy and its lumbering decision-making machinery.
That’s where our interests lie. Our hope is that British voters will consider those interests in June. Whether putting those interests on the scales will affect your votes we will never know. Nor will we know whether such consideration tips the scales in favour of or against Brexit. Those of us who love your country for its past contributions to our culture, political institutions and security will wish you well whatever you decide.
Irwin Stelzer is a fellow of the Hudson Institute, a visiting fellow of Nuffield College, Oxford, and a columnist for the Sunday Times.