24 July 2015

Ten pieces of advice for America


Barack Obama is already “looking forward” to Britain remaining within the European Union (and that’s even before David Cameron has finished his far-reaching, super-duper-fantastic renegotiations). While the USA won’t even join the International Criminal Court (for good reasons as it happens) the American president feels he can urge the people of another sovereign country to do something that even he, the most European of American presidents, would never consider.

There is no way America would allow any supranational body or court to control its immigration policies, decide which terrorists it can deport and which would be charged a $100 billion membership fee for the privilege (Britain’s £14 billion annual fee, very roughly adjusted for the population of the US). In wanting Britain to stay inside the EU Obama doesn’t even speak for the whole of America. The Republican party, in particular, has begun to notice how the single currency experiment has impoverished much of Europe. It increasingly sees the EU project as flawed. Rightly.

It is not, of course, the first time that Obama has waded into domestic UK politics. He also pleaded with Scotland to reject independence – an intervention that backfired, according to SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon.

Last weekend America’s 44th president also urged Britain to spend more on defence. As it happens I think he’s right about the UK’s dangerously stretched armed forces but he does seem to be getting into the habit of sticking his nose where it’s not necessarily wanted.

Neither he nor America would like it if a British prime minister performed a Hugh Grant-style Love Actually moment and offered a running commentary on America’s affairs. But just in case any Americans wanted some advice from this side of the Atlantic I’ve drawn up ten thoughts.

  1. Don’t invade other countries unless you’re willing to see it through. Colin Powell called it the Pottery Barn rule: you break it, you own it. George W Bush did at least stick with Iraq and his so-called “surge policy” delivered a reasonably stable nation by 2008. Obama than walked away and we know what happened soon afterwards: ISIS and Iran walked in.
  1. Please don’t choose weakness; nothing is more provocative. Putin noticed the non-reaction to Russia’s invasion of Georgia and his annexation of Crimea followed as surely as night follows day.
  1. Please don’t take your transatlantic friend for granted. It happens with every new US president. Bush I pivoted US policy towards Germany as its key European ally when he entered the White House. Bush II to Mexico. Obama to China. But then America needs an ally at the UN or in some foreign field and American presidents remember it’s nearly always Britain who is readiest to stand alongside it.
  1. If you want to look like a meritocracy it’s probably not ideal to choose another Bush, Clinton or Kennedy as your president. When you left us 200 years ago we got the impression you weren’t that keen on dynastic rule. Perhaps we got that wrong?
  1. Stop putting so many people in prison. You lock up more people than any other nation in the world and, using a bit of English understatement, a lot of them aren’t white. If you want to understand why so many black families are broken, you might want to take a look at your penal policy.
  1. If you want the Muslim world to respect you, make fewer violent and nihilistic films. There was a time when Hollywood painted an endearing picture of America but the Jimmy Stewart era ended a long time ago. Michael Medved called it the “Hollywood Versus America” problem.
  1. And while we’re on the topic of Hollywood, do British actors always have to be the bad guys? Whether it’s Ian McDiarmid as Emperor Palpatine, David Prowse as Darth Vader, Andy Serkis as Gollum, Jeremy Irons as Scar, Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter or Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps, we’re beginning to feel you don’t like us that much.
  1. Don’t call it the World Series. We know you let the Canadians play but it’s hardly the most global of tournaments.
  1. It’s football, not soccer. And why do you call your football thingamajig football? You carry the ball most of the time.
  1. And finally, you use far too many “z”s in words. It’s weaponise, not weaponize. Specialise, not specialize. And your words could do with a few more “u”s in them.

I’m sure this advice is as welcome to Americans as a porcupine at a nudist colony (as they say in Texas) and I hope you’ve noticed a lot of it is tongue in cheek. As it happens I love America. I’m a patriotic Brit but regard America as the second best country on earth. For a bit of fun I helped make The World Without America video that went viral a few years ago.

America is far from a perfect superpower but if it’s the choice between Uncle Sam being the world’s policeman and any of the alternatives, tyrants would range freely if we relied on the EU or UN to get anything done; none of us would have any religious freedom if Iran was in charge; and let’s not even begin to think what life would be like if Beijing or Moscow ruled the global roost. I’m happy with what we’ve got. Very happy. More happy than Sepp Blatter, certainly, who must wish the FBI had never been invented. But, dear America, just ask your president to focus on getting the ObamaCare computer systems to work. We’ll decide if we want to be members of the EU – without his help.

Tim Montgomerie is a columnist for the The Times, a Senior Fellow at Legatum Institute and co-founder of the new website The Good Right.