by Robert Morrison
September 6, 2011
Its safe to say our relations with the British have probably never been worse in our lifetimes. Recall that just before he went to London and bowed to beheaders, the newly inaugurated President Obama let it be known he had returned the bust of Winston Churchill to the British Embassy. He might as well have tossed it out of the Oval Office into the snow.
Then, he gifted Her Majesty with, what else, recordings of all his speeches. He followed that up with the amazingly thoughtful gesture of bestowing on Prime Minister Gordon Brown a $29.95 collection of DVDs of Hollywoods greatest films. Mr. Brown is doubtless enjoying them now, in his retirement, if he can get an adapter.
The Special Relationship fostered so carefully by the World War II alliance of Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt is in tatters. The Obama State Department is happy to tell us that Britain is no more special to us than any of the other 192 countries in the UN. (Of course, President Obama is known to think the U.S. itself is no more exceptional than Britain, or even Greece.)
It was fairly easy to be the new broom sweeping clean back in 2009. Now, however, as Rev. Wright might say, Obamas chickens are coming home to roost. Along with his sagging approval numbers is coming increasing disrespect. Rep. Maxine Waters is asking permission from her constituents to take the president to the woodshed. Former backer Peggy Noonan briskly calls him a loser on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal and asks aloud if he might just be snakebit.
The worst example of dissing the commander-in-chief, doubtless came from leftist Bill Maher. He told a nationwide audience, in an obscenity-laced routine, that he had been hoping for a president who would shoot the BP executives after the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
A short review of our Special Relationship might be in order. When Churchill crossed the U-boat infested North Atlantic seventy summers ago in the HMS Prince of Wales, he forged an alliance that lasted through World War II, the Cold War, all the way into the hills of Tora Bora, in Afghanistan and the oilfields of Basra in Iraq. Churchill, it was said in that 1941 First Summit, felt as if he was going to meet God Almighty. FDRs son told the British Prime Minister his father thought him the greatest man in the world.
Following Roosevelts death and V-E Day in 1945, Churchill nimbly befriended Harry Truman. In fact, it was President Truman who invited the defeated ex-Prime Minister to Fulton, Missouri, the next year. Churchills Iron Curtain speech at Westminster College on March 5, 1946, made headlines around the world.
Returning to Number 10 Downing Street, Churchill welcomed in 1952 the election of his old wartime comrade Dwight D. Eisenhower as president. True, Britains Prime Minister was less entranced with Ikes Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles. Hes the only bull I know who carries his china shop with him, Winston said bitterly. But he took care not to break ranks with President Eisenhower, a man who was revered on five continents.
Ikes successor, John F. Kennedy, might have had reason to shun Sir Winston, now in retirement. After all, his father, Joe Kennedy, bitterly attacked Churchill as the man responsible for World War II and blamed Winston personally for the death of his eldest son, Joe, Jr.
As president, John F. Kennedy rose above all that. In the last months of his life, in June, 1963, he named Churchill an honorary American citizen, the first such distinction granted since Lafayette. He marshaled the English language, said JFK at the Rose Garden ceremony, and sent it into battle. During the Berlin Crises and the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy had no stronger supporters than the British.
With Lyndon Johnson, we have the first tear in the fabric of friendship. When Sir Winston died in 1965, LBJ let it be known that he would decline to attend the state funeral in London. Instead, he sent Chief Justice Earl Warren. Johnson reacted with bitter sarcasm to press inquiries as to why, if he declined to go himself, he would not at least send Vice President Humphrey:
I may have made a mistake by asking a Chief Justice to go and not asking the Vice President. I will bear in mind in connection with any future funerals your very strong feelings in the matter and try to act in accordance with our national interest.
Of a previous death in London, that of King Charles I, it was said: He nothing common did or mean upon that memorable scene. Lyndon Johnson did nothing common or mean, either, but only because he stayed home. Queen Elizabeth saved our honor then by inviting former President Eisenhower to be her personal guest.
Ronald Reagan revived the Grand Alliance. He and Margaret Thatcher were fast friends.
When Ronald Reagan became the first U.S. President to address the British House of Commons in 1982, he took care to wear a Royal Air Force tie. It was a visual reminder of Churchills tribute to the brave young fliers of the RAF: Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.
As we look back on the years of our lives, its interesting to note that all of Churchills greatest American friends FDR, Truman, Ike, JFK and Ronald Reagan died honored and loved by the people of this Great Republic, as well.
Just four years after he was hailed as a Caesar at his 1964 nominating convention, LBJ found he dare not show his face at his partys convention in Chicago. Even his chosen successor, the hapless Hubert Humphrey, was hit by human excrement thrown by protesters and tear-gassed in his hotel by responding police as he claimed the mantle of party leadership. And who remembers Lyndon Johnsons funeral?
I do not predict and certainly do not hope for such a fate for President Obama, or even believe he is snakebitten. I dont think he has had just a run of bad luck. Nor do I think in my soul that hes being haunted by Sir Winstons ghost. Just dont tell Bill Maher who founded BP—British Petroleum: It was Winston Churchill.