Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Quick Note on the Bust Kerfuffle

Another reason the Churchill bust has been in the news is that the columnist Charles Krauthammer cited it last week in explaining Romney's trip to Britain. His comments prompted a rebuff from Dan Pfeiffer at the White House, claiming the bust had never left the White House. Pfeiffer then had to apologize and admit that it had. Turns out there are two busts of Churchill, one of which remains in the residence--the one in the picture of Prime Minister Cameron and President Obama.

So, the White House looks incompetent at best, and Krauthammer comes out smelling like a rose.

Not quite.

This is what Charles Krauthammer said on Bill O'Reilly's program: "All I know is that the British reaction to the return of the bust was extremely negative, and it felt like it was an insult, that this was a gift after 9/11 to show solidarity. The British had soldiers serving with us at the time in Iraq and Afghanistan, really standing shoulder to shoulder and this was a slight. That's how they saw it."

There is nothing true about that passage by Krauthammer. The bust was a loan, not a gift. It was given before, not after 9/11; it therefore had nothing to do with the fact that American and British soldiers later served together in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was a personal gesture to the new president, George W. Bush, not a symbol of the "special relationship."

The Churchill bust was presented to Bush on July 16, 2001, a week before Bush was to visit Great Britain. As Bush explained in his remarks after the presentation, the British gesture was prompted by a remark by Bush:

"I think I casually mentioned to the ambassador right after my swearing in, I lamented the fact that there was not a proper bust of Winston Churchill for me to put in the Oval Office. He's a man of great action. Here sits a bust on loan from Her Majesty's Government which I accept gratefully."

Two things are significant here: 1) the Churchill bust ended up in the Oval Office due to a remark made by Bush, and 2) Bush himself acknowledged in accepting it that it was not a permanent gift but was on loan to him. So the idea that it was done at the initiative of the British and that to return it was some kind of insult is patently false. It was loaned to Bush personally at his request and returned when he left office.

These are easily verified facts. It took me a matter of seconds to find out when Bush received the bust. Krauthammer evidently never bothered to find out, because the facts did not fit his pre-determined narrative that the Obama administration deliberately insulted the British, a line he has been pushing for years.

The White House apologized for its error. It will be interesting to see if Krauthammer acknowledges his.

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