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 TrumpDonald TrumpYoungkin ad features mother who pushed to have 'Beloved' banned from son's curriculum White House rejects latest Trump claim of executive privilege Democrats say GOP lawmakers implicated in Jan. 6 should be expelled MORE’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.
Third, we all need the United Kingdom to recover from this moment – quickly. The UK played an outsized role in Europe’s economy and security way back when the concept of the EU was merely a glint in Churchillian eyes. That won’t change – and we don’t want it to. Personal pique and pride in shaming David Cameron should never become an unintentional gift to those like President Putin most poised to benefit from a perception that the U.K. has lost its influence.
Fourth – let’s do what David Cameron failed to do: recognize that planning and process are destiny. The biggest divide right now is over how fast all this must happen. The referendum is advisory, non-binding, and it is up to the sovereign UK government to decide whether, when and how to implement it. Much of Europe’s proclivity to rush, in a (likely misguided) quest for certainty could only create contagion. It’s better for everyone to take a breath and do this right. There are two negotiations ahead (at least) not one. The UK must negotiate its exit from the EU, starting when it triggers the official mechanism, which Cameron said will only be done by the next Prime Minister. But there will also be a major, and likely more consequential negotiation over what UK's relationship will be with EU and its members going forward, maintaining, not severing, connectivity. Having gotten so much wrong in the run-up, we must all better collectively manage the aftermath.
Fifth and finally – we should ask: what’s the next leak that should be plugged in the global architecture so Brexit doesn’t become a flood? The world can ill afford a run on other frayed institutions. In the financial collapse of 2008, Bear Stearns gave way to Lehman Brothers and the rest was history. What elements of the rules based systems must be fortified or patched up now so they don’t become irreparably cracked edifices let alone the crumbled ruins of Brexit’s aftershocks. This is a time to reassure NATO, keep TTIP on life support, and stand by responsible leaders in Europe – particularly those standing up to the continent’s nagging ultranationalist and anti-immigrant historic political forces known to capitalize on moments of global uncertainty.
For those of us – at home and in Europe - who believe in a rules-based architecture that recognizes global leadership is a strategic imperative, and that connectedness is both a strength and a reality -- this is a time to be thoughtful and methodical, not emotional and capricious.
In short, let’s study what David Cameron did – and do the opposite.
David Wade is the former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryUS can lead on climate action by supporting developing countries Queen Elizabeth resting 'for a few days' after hospital stay Twenty-four countries say global net-zero goal will fuel inequality MORE. He is currently a consultant specializing in providing global corporations and organizations strategic advice, crisis communications, political intelligence gathering, and federal and legislative strategy.