22 April 2016

Barack Obama has turned his back on democracy


As we welcome the Leader of the Free World – as American presidents used to be called – to London to lecture us about the supposed evils of Brexit, we ought to consider Barack Obama’s long and despicably ignoble history of denying support to the democratic aspirations of others.

American presidents used to consider standing up for peoples who wanted free and independent government to be a central part of their job. Populaces who want to control their own destinies rather than have them decided by foreign bodies always used to have a friend in the Oval Office. Thus Woodrow Wilson came to post-Great War Europe bearing his famous Fourteen Principles, which were largely about the self-determination of peoples. Similarly in August 1941, Franklin Roosevelt agreed with Winston Churchill the Atlantic Charter, which proclaimed ‘the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live’ and promised to restore ‘sovereign rights and self-government.’

John F Kennedy used his inaugural address in 1961 to ‘Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.’ Ronald Reagan put that brave promise into actual effect by demanding that Mikhail Gorbachev tear down the Berlin Wall, which only months afterwards the Soviets did. Whether you admire or despise George W. Bush and the neo-conservative movement, the hope that Iraqis and Afghans would benefit from democracy was at the heart of their response to the attacks of 9/11. Since their own Revolution in the 18th century, therefore, part of the mission and pride and duty of American presidents was to support the right of self-determination for other peoples. Until Barack Obama.

Almost alone amongst US presidents, Obama has turned his back on this fundamental duty, and instead showed peoples who are struggling for sovereignty the superior sneer of the cold, haughty academic that he really is. When the Iranian people protested against the theft of their June 2009 election by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and took to the streets at the cost of around 100 dead and 4,000 arrested – the exact figures will never be known due to government censorship – President Obama merely stated that the difference between Ahmadinejad and the opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi ‘may not be as great as has been advertised’ and ordered American diplomats to do nothing to support Iranian pro-democracy campaigners.

Similarly, during the Arab Spring, the Libyan Uprising, the annexation of the Crimea, the Syrian civil war, and the Ukrainian insurgency, Obama has in each case carefully identified the pro-democracy forces and then either denied them American support or actively undermined them. The reason that his so-called ‘red lines’ over chemical warfare were ignored by President Assad in Syria and that Vladimir Putin has flouted Western wishes time and again is because they know that Obama has no fundamental affection for democracy, in contrast to Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy, Reagan and Bush.

Which brings us on to Britain’s own attempt to recapture ultimate control over our sovereignty from the European Union. Faced with the knowledge that foreign judges sitting in Europe and elsewhere can overrule – and in seventy cases since 1996 have indeed overruled – our own courts (including the Supreme Court), the British people are finally staging their own uprising: The British Spring. It should therefore come as no surprise that President Obama has lost no opportunity to come to London this week to try to stymie it. His actions are totally consistent with the central theme of his entire presidency: namely, to support governments against people and establishments against democratic uprisings, wherever he finds them. He stands in direct opposition to the longest and proudest tradition of the US presidency, and the British people should treat with derision his counsels on this issue, as on so many others.

Professor Andrew Roberts is the author of Obama's America (Kindle)