Sunday, February 15, 2009

The semiotics of diplomacy: The bust dust-up 

Apparently Barack Obama would rather not have a bust of Winston Churchill in the Oval Office. This is no small matter to the Brits, one of our "traditional allies" that we were told we would now respect.

A bust of the former prime minister once voted the greatest Briton in history, which was loaned to George W Bush from the Government's art collection after the September 11 attacks, has now been formally handed back.

The bronze by Sir Jacob Epstein, worth hundreds of thousands of pounds if it were ever sold on the open market, enjoyed pride of place in the Oval Office during President Bush's tenure.

But when British officials offered to let Mr Obama to hang onto the bust for a further four years, the White House said: "Thanks, but no thanks."

Diplomats were at first reluctant to discuss the whereabouts of the Churchill bronze, after its ejection from the seat of American power. But the British Embassy in Washington has now confirmed that it sits in the palatial residence of ambassador Sir Nigel Sheinwald, just down the road from Vice President Joe Biden's official residence. It is not clear whether the ambassador plans to keep it in Washington or send it back to London....

The rejection of the bust has left some British officials nervously reading the runes to see how much influence the UK can wield with the new regime in Washington.

Obama has put a bust of Lincoln in Churchill's place, which is not such a bad thing; Lincoln is, in the matter of being eloquent and tenacious in great adversity, the American Churchill. That said, the Brits see this as rooted in the Obama family history:
Churchill has less happy connotations for Mr Obama than those American politicians who celebrate his wartime leadership. It was during Churchill's second premiership that Britain suppressed Kenya's Mau Mau rebellion. Among Kenyans allegedly tortured by the colonial regime included one Hussein Onyango Obama, the President's grandfather.

We were told that discussion of Obama's African Muslim family were not germane to his candidacy (notwithstanding his autobiographical treatment of them), but perhaps it ought to have been. Dan Riehl has more along these lines.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Feb 15, 01:27:00 PM:

Obama invites comparison to Lincoln because there are some historical connections, and because it's flattering.

To me, Lincoln is nothing like Obama. Lincoln only served one term in Congress because he took an outspoken position against the Mexican War, which turned out to be a popular war. Lincoln called Polk out about lying us into that war from the well of Congress. Instead, Obama gave an obscure speech that was resurfaced when it was convenient. I don't recall Obama speaking out about the Iraq War once he was in the Senate, at least not until popular opinion had already shifted and he was gearing up to run.

Lincoln would have stayed out of national politics were it not for the issue of slavery in the West. He saw it as a fight over the future of America, and came back into politics because he cared about it so much. It was the clarity and specificity of Lincoln's position on this issue that got him elected President. Lincoln didn't run on "hope and change."

Political leaders are often selfish, but the great ones ... especially when in higher office ... put the common good first. Given Obama's seedy Illinois back story, I don't expect him to rise to the occasion. Land of Lincoln, indeed ....


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Feb 15, 01:46:00 PM:

Anon- In fact, the Mexican War was one of the most unpopular in the history of the U.S.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Feb 15, 01:48:00 PM:

"We were told that discussion of Obama's African Muslim family were not germane to his candidacy..." and we knew that was to just shut us up until after the election.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Feb 15, 02:20:00 PM:

My understanding is that the Mexican War "worked", and hence became popular ... including in Illinois ... which was a factor in why Lincoln only served one term.

My main point was that Lincoln was principled and outspoken ... and his position not calculated for personal political benefit.

Obama doens't deserve credit for his opposition to the Iraq War. I at least would give credit to Dennis Kuchinich for his.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Feb 15, 04:56:00 PM:

Why would a "unifier" and someone that preaches to us so long and hard about restoring our image with the world, seemingly go out of his way to insult one of our closest allies?

Surely he could have been as diplomatic as he claims to be.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Feb 16, 12:11:00 AM:

Anon- Thanks for clarifying that.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Feb 16, 12:51:00 AM:

Lincoln's legacy was the American Civil War.

Churchill's legacy was get the USofA into WW II as soon as he could.

Unfortunately most of us forgot our history lessons.


By Blogger Gary Rosen, at Mon Feb 16, 02:39:00 PM:

Dave Anonymous:

Nice to know you're pro-slavery and pro-Hitler.  

By Anonymous William Steinmann, at Wed May 06, 11:38:00 AM:

As a Historian, I think Dave nailed it:

"Lincoln's legacy was the American Civil War.

Churchill's legacy was get the USofA into WW II as soon as he could.

Unfortunately most of us forgot our history lessons."

Because Dave got it right, Mr. Rosen would like to smear him by hanging the "racist Nazi" sign around his neck. Mr. Rosen, what exactly was said that leads you to believe that Dave is a racist Nazi?

Dave wasn't stating opinion. He was stating the truth. And you attacked him personally because of what? Your own ignorance of history?

Now, based on your last name of ROSEN, I could make a lot of assumptions about you being a stereotypical Radical Zionist Leftist Jew.

But I won't, because I don't know you well enough to make those judgement calls. It's not my nature to voice an uninformed opinion.

Do the world a favor and gain some knowledge before you start hurling insults, please. Your ignorance is showing.  

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