The great Churchill bust dilemma
By Will Inboden As an American living in London, I took particular notice of this recent news item that President Obama has removed the bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office and returned it to the British Government. It is hard to think of any good reason for this curious gesture, which has sparked understandable ...
By Will Inboden
By Will Inboden
As an American living in London, I took particular notice of this recent news item that President Obama has removed the bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office and returned it to the British Government. It is hard to think of any good reason for this curious gesture, which has sparked understandable consternation among conservative commentators and understandable heartburn among British diplomats as well.
Of course the Churchill bust was originally presented by Tony Blair to President Bush — and to the American people — shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2001. While it is one thing for a new president to change the carpet and dress code in the Oval Office, it is another thing altogether to summarily dismiss such a poignant symbol of the Special Relationship. Even allowing that overall, Americans probably revere Churchill more than the Brits themselves do, he is still regarded in the UK as among their greatest of leaders.
Besides leaving an empty shelf in the Oval Office (never mind President Obama’s reported rationale that the Churchill bust was "replaced" by one of Lincoln, as a Lincoln bust was already on display from Bush’s time), this puts Gordon Brown in a further predicament when he becomes the first European leader to visit the Obama White House. What other former British leader’s likeness should Brown bring as a gift to replace Churchill in the Oval Office?
We can hope that Brown will present a bust of an inspiring notable such as a Thatcher, Lloyd George, Gladstone, or Disraeli. But then Brown has not distinguished himself as very politically adroit or attuned to the ingredients of greatness. And he does have at least a few bad options to consider. Here are three former British prime ministers whom I hope Brown will not present to Obama for display in the Oval Office:
1. Jim Callaghan, the British Jimmy Carter, who presided over the disastrous recession, stagflation, labor strife, and all-around misery of the late 1970s, and whose failure to undertake the needed free market reforms paved the way for Thatcher’s rise to power.
2. Lord Frederick North, who led the way in raising taxes on the American people. Yes, on Americans. Lord North governed from 1770-1782.
3. And of course, Neville Chamberlain, who made good on his promise to engage in dialogue without preconditions with the foremost tyrant of the day.
I invite readers and others to put forward their own suggestions. But then again, maybe it isn’t too late to ask the British government if the Churchill bust can be returned to the Oval Office after all.
Will Inboden is the executive director of the Clements Center for National Security and an associate professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, both at the University of Texas at Austin, a distinguished scholar at the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law, and the author of The Peacemaker: Ronald Reagan, the Cold War, and the World on the Brink.
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