Friday, 22 April 2016

Douglas Murray and James Rubin on Barack Obama's pro-Remain pitch to the British public

For those of you who enjoy a really good debate (and both participants seemed to relish the fight), here's something from around noon on the BBC News Channel today. 

(Naturally, I thought Douglas Murray won).

Annita McVeigh: Douglas, first of all: That's absolutely nothing tentative in what the President's saying. He's very much asserting his right to make comments on the EU referendum, and he does have that right, doesn't he?

Douglas Murray: Yes, of course he does. I mean, he's head of state of one of our most important allies. I have to say though I did have a slight grin this morning. About a year ago I was in Washington and I remember the Obama administration was taking huge exception to the decision by Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, to go to Washington and tell Washington what they ought to do. The Obama administration hated being told what to do by a foreign leader on that occasion. I think Mr. Netanyahu had the right on that occasion; I think Mr. Obama has the right on this occasion. It's just he's arguing something I think is fundamentally wrong, and if I can very quickly...The point is here Mr. Obama is arguing for Britain to remain in the EU not for Britain's best interests but for America's best interests. America has always seen our presence in the EU as being a mollifying presence, to help direct the EU in a vaguely more pro-American direction, in a more sympathetic direction for America. So I can understand Mr. Obama saying this for America's self-interest. That doesn't mean that it's in our interest to remain in the EU.

Annita McVeigh: And James, you were making the point in our conversation a few moments ago that some of the critics of Mr. Obama are essentially confusing domestic and foreign policy concerns.

James Rubin: Very much so. It is interesting to hear some of the complaints from the likes of Boris Johnson, who seems to be living in the past. The idea that the United States and the United Kingdom have similar and equal status in the world is absurd and if Boris Johnson didn't like the argument that the United States was taking it's because he doesn't seem to understand that we're not a potential member of the EU. We're not part of the EU. To compare our positions, our sovereignty, is really missing the boat. But the larger point here is that we in the United States and British foreign policy have a lot in common. We have common interests. It's not a question of American interests and British interests. We have common interests. We have common interests in seeing the world become as peaceful and as prosperous and as democratic as it can be. Those values are values that our countries fought for in World War Two, are values that we fought through during the Cold War. It is our view that being part of the European Union, we have a better ability to pursue our common interests by, for example, imposing sanctions on Russia. Without the British role in the European I don't think it would have been as strong. These are important foreign policy goals that we share. It's not a question of British and American. It's common.

Annita McVeigh: But when those Brexit campaigners say the U.S. would never cede control over A, B or C, or allow itself to be told what to do, you're saying to them: 'Well, look. America is bigger than the UK. It is economically more powerful than the UK. That is a simple fact'?

James Rubin: Well, we do have an entire continent from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. The European Union is similar in size. But I don't want to get into a match about who's bigger or smaller. I think what people are missing is that America's view is based on our shared values and our common interests in how to promote our shared values.

Annita McVeigh: Let me bring in Douglas in.

Douglas Murray: Our shared values and common interests are best epitomised by our joint membership of NATO, as you well know. It's best, security-wise, assisted by our membership of the Five Eyes intelligence network - none of the other members of which are EU member states. Anybody interested in democracy and the growth of democracy in general could not possibly be supportive of the European Union - an entity which is less and less democratic and accountable by the year. If Mr. Obama wants to encourage the spread of democracy he should be encouraging Britain to step back from the EU or be encouraging the EU to become genuinely what it was meant to be at the beginning, not this power-grabbing entity in Brussels which it has sadly become.

Annita McVeigh: Do you think...? OK, James.

James Rubin: Let me just focus on the democracy issue, because this is very interesting. Some of my colleagues who are looking to get the British out of the EU seem to have forgotten what a powerful role membership of the European Union played for all the countries of south-eastern Europe, the Serbs, the Croats, the Albanians, all the Balkan States, and we managed to convince them to do democratic things to promote democracy by their ability to get into the European Union and I can't imagine...That's a fact! It's not a question...and so those are the type of democratic values that a British role in the European Union, we believe, is better. Now, the British have every right to choose to leave it - and we're not saying they don't have that right - but if we want to promote democracy, if we want to impose sanctions - and security is about sanctions, not just NATO...

Annita McVeigh: Douglas, in real terms, just how much ability, do you think, does President Obama's comments have to influence voters in this referendum?

Douglas Murray: Well, I mean, there is obviously a massive effort going on at the behest of Downing Street to encourage allies to claim that we would be in a disaster zone if we ever exited the EU. I think this has the potential to scare a lot of voters into voting Remain. On the other hand there could well be a backlash against it. Many people will notice that Mr. Obama doesn't have an open border with Mexico, for instance, and would not appreciate us urging him to have one. Many people will wonder why an American president is coming and insisting that we do something in America's interests that is very likely not in our own interests. So there's a possibility that there'll be a backlash against this. And by the way, very quick, on the security thing. It's only a month ago that a suicide bomber went off right beside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels. Nothing we could do in further integration in the EU could stop that happening. What we do have is a very serious set of domestic security problems and a lot of EU security problems. The idea we need more of that EU to make us safe, as Mr. Obama is saying, is madness.

Annita McVeigh: And just a final thought from you James - if you would. Liam Fox says that President Obama has "a starry-eyed view of Europe" - and this is coming from someone who's a TransAtlantacist. Do you think that is the case, that America generally has such misconceptions about the European Union?

James Rubin: No. I think Liam is living in a dream world. The other day I was with him on a programme where he admitted he was worried if the Scottish left Britain then NATO would have a big hole in it, and he seems to have forgotten that all pundits seem to say that if Britain pulls out of the EU then Scotland will pull out of Britain...

Douglas Murray: That's not true!

James Rubin: ...and NATO will have a big hole in it. So there's a left-hand, right-hand problem, One day they say one thing, the next day they say something else.

Douglas Murray: It's not true that Scotland goes out if we get out.

James Rubin: Well, that's what everybody's saying. You know, I'm just reading the newspapers.

Douglas Murray: No, I can assure that's what a few pundits are saying...

James Rubin: Not a few pundits!

Douglas Murray: ...but you shouldn't simply recycle pundits, as you know.

James Rubin: The leaders of the Scottish National Party are saying this...

Douglas Murray: Of course they are!

James Rubin: It's not just pundits...

Douglas Murray: Of course the SNP are saying that!

James Rubin: So is it pundits or leaders of political parties?....They're good debaters here!

Annita McVeigh: We can see the passions over this debate....

(Interview then brought to an end.)


  1. "We can see the passions over this debate...."

    Which seems BBC code for 'our guy's just blew it again and we need to bail PDQ'

  2. Wee Jimmy Krankie has been very clear about it, and I believe it's in the SNP's new manifesto. Doesn't mean it will happen, but the threat is out in the open. If Scotland didn't vote to leave last year, wiser heads will surely prevail next year when they're given the choice of staying or jumping ship once they see the EU begin to crumble before their eyes.

    Obama said national sovereignty is outdated. I'm surprised none of the Leave advocates have pointed out that he gave the whole game away.