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Say an Obama State of the Union address is expected to question American trade relationships. Imagine, then, David Cameron placing a stern call to the president beforehand, insisting the UK "values a strong US in a strong Nafta". This on the heels of a British minister having asserted paternalistically that America must remain in Nafta and must prevent American voters from having a choice in the matter if only because this policy course is "in the British interest".

Now, there's no point being naive about asymmetrical power dynamics, so the prospect of any UK politician bullying an American president to pursue a particular domestic agenda solely in concern for "the British interest" is clearly farcical. Nevertheless, the Obama administration's pouring cold water on Cameron's plans for an In/Out referendum on UK membership of the EU bespeaks an old-style imperialism unbefitting a modern Democratic president. UK to US: butt out.

On Joe Biden's London visit in February, the Vice President may have conveniently echoed Cameron's own desire for Britain to remain in the EU, but the voice of support comes at a cost. This unambiguously selfish concern for "a strong UK in a strong EU" implies that America primarily values the UK as an obedient proxy in the larger, more important body of the EU — thus evoking all those tired, unfortunate metaphors about yappy breeds of dog.

Yet what's most striking about that Nafta analogy is its staggering inadequacy. In fact, it's a terrible analogy, though I challenge you to find another one that works. The US is not a member of any alliance remotely equivalent to the EU, making it pretty rich for Washington to compel Britons to remain under its heel. The US dominates Nato, and has often regarded WTO obligations as mere suggestions. America enjoys a veto in the UN Security Council, and has blithely opted out of the International Criminal Court. The US surrenders its sovereignty unconditionally to no higher power, and Americans would be outraged were the majority of their laws drafted in Mexico, Quebec, or Guatemala.

Yet among American liberals, about the EU one cannot utter a discouraging word. Right-on Yanks perceive the EU as a beacon of benevolence, an icon of peace, fairness, and equality. This laudable diet of the kind, the rational, and the wise presides over a utopia to which in fantasy left-wing Americans retire. Criticising the EU in these circles is like drawing horns on Nelson Mandela, or making lewd thrusting hand gestures at Aung San Suu Kyi.

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March 1st, 2013
1:03 AM
US has always valued UK as a close obedient proxy, their relationship ought to remain special. Blair and Bush understood each other well, however, Cameron and Obama may not see eye to eye on a variety of issues. "UK to US: Butt out." Sure? (btt1943, vzc1943)

February 28th, 2013
7:02 PM
A British conservative accuses someone else of "old-style imperialism." Attention: This is the irony police! We have you surrounded! Come out with your hands up!

February 28th, 2013
6:02 PM
Re: But squelching the democratic process is not in the American spirit. What planet are you on? The US has squelched the democratic process all over the world -- from Chile to Iran. The American view of democracy is that it's great for the US -- for others, not so much.

Matt Hall
February 28th, 2013
5:02 PM
America to UK: Good Luck!

J Flynn
February 28th, 2013
3:02 PM
A thoroughly well reasoned article that highlights the problem that even democractic US administrations have with imperiousness.

February 28th, 2013
3:02 PM
Living in a country that can't control its own immigration policy or fishing waters. Having the decisions of your highest courts subject to a yet higher court... [...] Think Americans would put up with that? Unfortunately, the same crowd of lefties you so rightly nail in this article are indeed trying to do the same thing to the US. They dream of the day when corrupt UN panjandrums, lilliputian-like, tie down the evil American Gulliver.

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