The world has woken up with a throbbing post-Brexit hang-over. But the cure isn’t more of the hair of the dog that bit us.
Brexit is a case study in the perils of shoot first, aim later decisions by powerful people calling the shots: yes, voters turned out in higher than expected numbers to leave the EU only to go home and turn to Google to explain what they’d just done.
But they might be forgiven for following their leaders’ impetuous example. It was first and foremost Prime Minister Cameron himself who let a genie out of a bottle before analyzing whether there was any way to control it let alone devising a strategy to manage forces long swirling at home.
Maybe we should’ve seen the writing on the wall: supernaturally self-confident, Cameron had acted rashly before, with consequences that today seem as prescient as they were cautionary: his hastily arranged, half-baked February 2013 Afghanistan-Pakistan trilateral summit at Chequers damaged the AfPak effort because good intentions are no substitute for strategy, and Cameron’s last minute September 2013 disastrous, decision to put Syria airstrikes up for a vote in Parliament before he had counted votes or consulted with allies was equally ill-fated.
Make no mistake: political leaders in the United Kingdom drove into this ditch by being too confident, doing too much too soon – and not looking into the abyss before they leapt.
That’s why the best way to manage today’s predicament is to do the opposite – in every way.
Here are five things the United States can help do – quietly – carefully – to help manage the aftermath.
First – let’s avoid a dangerously American temptation of seeing Brexit as a reflection of our politics or a mandate on us. President Obama’s advocacy was never going to be the reason “Stay” failed and Donald Trump’s antics (he shares more than a barber with Boris Johnson) weren’t the reason “Leave” prevailed. Brexit wasn’t about us. If we actually try to see this issue through British eyes and not on our own, we might better assess the way to stop Brexit’s contagion or its continued collateral damage to the world economy.
Second – Brexit was a triumph of emotion over reason, feeling over facts. Getting over Brexit requires that clear-eyed calculations, not hot-headed reactions, carry the day. Presumably that’s why the State Department scrambled the schedule and sent America’s top diplomat to London and Brussels right away. If the instinct for vengeance drives decisions, E.U. countries will end up damaging themselves in the process because whether Great Britain is in or out of the European Union, no one can opt out of an interconnected world.
The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of FTI Consulting LLP, its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals, members or employees.
David Wade is an Senior Advisor to FTI Consulting and is the former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State John Kerry. He specializes in providing global corporations and organizations strategic advice, crisis communications, political intelligence gathering, and federal and legislative strategy.