Now, try to apply the radical threat brandished at the U.K. that "out is out" when the East Europeans are clamoring for military protection, and the Americans and the British remain the only credible military force in Western Europe.
And that's where Washington comes in. In a speech at Stanford University on June 24, 2016 President Barack Obama said that "the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom is enduring, and the United Kingdom's membership in NATO remains a vital cornerstone of U.S. foreign, security, and economic policy (emphasis added)."
He also said that "the United Kingdom and the European Union will remain indispensable partners of the United States even as they begin negotiating their ongoing relationship to ensure continued stability, security, and prosperity for Europe, Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the world."
The EU's blind alley
The existing trade and defense ties explain why I think that the U.K. will have no trouble getting a deal it wants with the EU.
But the EU, and its future, is a much bigger worry. The union's leading tenors - Germany, France and Italy - have no idea what to do next, mostly because they are in a state of an intractable political disarray.
Here are the unpalatable choices they are facing.
First, a move toward further sovereignty transfers and a federal state - favored by some in the original six EU members - is out of the question because there is no popular support for that.
Second, the prevailing mood of the moment is the opposite: A loose confederation of nation states. That would whittle down the huge and democratically unaccountable Brussels bureaucracy, and it would repatriate a large amount of authority transferred to the EU Commission.
The only problem here is that such a loosening of ties that bind would be lethal to the monetary union whose credibility and survival require a federal state with a common fiscal policy.
But, sadly, that is a mission impossible for the present German, French and Italian governments.
The surviving German government is a political miracle of sorts. After last Friday's reconciliation attempt, the sister CDU and CSU coalition center-right parties are pretending that their ten-month old strife is over, but tensions and key policy differences remain as strong as ever. The Socialist SPD Party – the third coalition partner – is gearing up for general elections in September 2017 where they will be fighting against the CDU and the CSU. The confrontation is already reaching a fever pitch in the area of foreign policy, with disagreements on economic policy also ready to go public.
And then there is the French problem. The French press is reporting (without the official denial from the Elysée Palace) that Germany's Chancellor Merkel has put an end to the all-important French-German partnership, prompting the question of whether an isolated chancellor's influence is coming to naught.
The French seem to agree with that view. They are now building alternative partnerships with German and Italian Socialists. But that is of questionable value because France is in an acrimonious election campaign, punctuated by crippling strikes and months-long demonstrations. The country's Socialist president, polling at 15-17 percent, is the weakest and the most unpopular leader in the 58 years of the Fifth Republic. His center-right opposition also looks splintered and disorganized. Only the extreme-right anti-European Front National (FN, polling between 30 and 40 percent) seems well organized and emboldened by the British referendum, and by strong anti-EU forces gaining ground in Austria, Italy and the Netherlands.