Not only will Western institutions be turning inward to deal with the consequences of British withdrawal, the balance of power inside the EU will shift away from the outward looking and dynamic north towards the more protectionist south. Even as the global situation deteriorates and the Middle East lurches deeper into the horrors of sectarian war, America’s close European allies will be squabbling with each other over the details of divorce—and both the EU and Britain will be consumed by their internal problems. Scotland may now want to leave Britain, and populist politicians across Europe are already talking about more secessions and more referendums.
The vote, and weakening of the West that it heralds, will diminish President Obama’s foreign policy legacy. American policy toward Europe under his leadership has been an abject failure. His most obvious failure, and one that historians will view severely, is his failure to prevent the meltdown of Syria. The millions of desperate refugees fleeing for their lives are much more than a humanitarian disaster; they are a political disaster, and the strain of coping with the refugee flow on top of Europe’s other problems stoked suspicion and fear across the continent and greatly strengthened the power of the Leave campaign in the UK.