UK officials understand the momentous nature of the decision which they are facing. Their obligation to their people is to act in the latter’s interest. After all, the British people are the ones who have to live with an in-out decision. In contrast, Washington’s interests are ephemeral at best. London ’s presence in Brussels may affect EU policies at the margin, but the differences with an EU-free Britain aren’t likely to be significant. And the impact on the organization’s relations with America probably couldn’t be measured.

Even worse was Gordon’s dismissal of the prospective referendum. When states like California allow their people to vote on almost everything, it is odd for an American official to lecture a democratic state—the system which actually birthed the U.S.—against being, well, democratic. What next from Washington? A demand that the UK create sovereign states and turn the House of Lords into an American-style Senate?

At least Secretary Rice had the good grace to declare EU membership “good for Turkey” and “good for Europe.” President Obama talked about sending “an important signal” to the Muslim world and acting to “firmly anchor” Turkey in Europe. Philip Gordon didn’t bother with pretense, simply declaring that British participation was in “America’s interests.” As my Cato Institute colleague Marian Tupy observed: “Gordon’s behavior is worthy of a Roman proconsul throwing his weight around some impoverished province on the edge of the world.”