Boris Johnson has criticised the US president Barack Obama and suggested his attitude to Britain might be based on his “part-Kenyan” heritage and “ancestral dislike of the British empire”.In fact, the Churchill story is Johnson's lede:
Writing a column for The Sun newspaper the outgoing Mayor of London recounted a story about a bust of Winston Churchill purportedly being removed from White House.
“Some said it was a snub to Britain. Some said it was a symbol of the part-Kenyan President’s ancestral dislike of the British empire -- of which Churchill had been such a fervent defender,” he wrote.
Something mysterious happened when Barack Obama entered the Oval Office in 2009.Actually, plenty of people could "explain why" the bust "vanished from that room." Here's a fact check Glenn Kessler wrote for The Washington Post early last year, when Ted Cruz brought up the subject:
Something vanished from that room, and no one could quite explain why.
It was a bust of Winston Churchill -- the great British war time leader. It was a fine goggle-eyed object, done by the brilliant sculptor Jacob Epstein, and it had sat there for almost ten years.
But on day one of the Obama administration it was returned, without ceremony, to the British embassy in Washington.
No one was sure whether the President had himself been involved in the decision.
Some said it was a snub to Britain. Some said it was a symbol of the part-Kenyan President’s ancestral dislike of the British empire -- of which Churchill had been such a fervent defender.
The Winston Churchill bust in question was originally provided in July 2001 by then Prime Minister Tony Blair as a loan to President George W. Bush. The bust, now almost 70 years old, was made by English sculptor Sir Jacob Epstein, and Bush said he would keep it in the Oval Office. Various news reports at the time said the bust will be returned once Bush left office.Following along so far? There were two Churchill busts. One was always scheduled to be returned at the end of George W. Bush's term.
The White House residence, meanwhile, has another bust of Churchill, also sculpted by Epstein, which was given to President Lyndon B. Johnson on Oct. 6, 1965, (Here’s Lady Bird Johnson’s diary entry about the gift, which was facilitated by Churchill’s wartime friends, including Averell Harriman.)
It's not completely clear why it was given to Bush in the first place:
In 2012, the Obama White House said the gift in 2001 occurred when the residence bust “was being worked on at the time” but The Fact Checker did not find a reference to that in news reports. Still, at the news conference accepting the gift, Bush told reporters it came about because he lamented to the British ambassador that “that there was not a proper bust of Winston Churchill for me to put in the Oval Office.” So one could wonder why the president would say that when he already had virtually the same bust sitting in the residence.In any case, the bust given to President Johnson remains in the White House. Here's a photo of President Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron -- Johnson's fellow Tory and political frenemy -- examining the bust in July 2010:
But what's up with that bit in Johnson's op-ed about "the part-Kenyan President’s ancestral dislike of the British empire"? Is Johnson channeling Newt Gingrich and Dinesh D'Souza?
Probably not. In fact, it's likely that this idea originated with the British. Here's a Telegraph story about the return of the Bush-Blair Churchill bust, written when Obama had been in office less than a month:
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.In a 2010 New Republic article, James Mann stated flatly that this was a British idea:
... the idea started with the British, those former colonialists, who have repeatedly invoked Kenya to explain every perceived slight from the Obama administration.The reference to the Mau Mau is particularly absurd, according to David Anderson, an Oxford professor and author of Histories of the Hanged: Britain’s Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire.
... I first ran across the Kenya paranoia a few weeks after Obama was sworn in. Gordon Brown, then the British prime minister, was coming to Washington, and a British television reporter asked to interview me about Obama’s views of the world. “He has different roots than all other presidents,” the reporter said. “He doesn’t have ties to Europe.”
... “Revealed: Why Obama Loathes the British” screamed one article in the Daily Mail a few months ago. The article rehashed the history of British colonials and the Mau Mau rebellion.
... You can’t get more exalted than Sir David Manning, who was Britain’s ambassador to Washington from 2003 to 2007. Yet earlier this year, in testimony to a House of Commons foreign affairs committee, he reached low by warning that Obama “comes with a very different perspective” from other presidents.
“He is an American who grew up in Hawaii, whose foreign experience was of Indonesia, and who had a Kenyan father,” Manning said. “We now have a Democrat who is not familiar with us.”
To portray the Obama family as being part of Mau Mau is stir-fry crazy. Let me explain why: The Obama family come from western Kenya, which is about as different from Nairobi and the Kikuyu area as Utah is from New York City. And it’s almost as far way. They come from an area where there was no rebellion, there was no Mau Mau. So while his father and his grandmother may well have been nationalists -- I’m sure they were -- they weren’t directly involved in the Mau Mau rebellion.James Mann notes that the Daily Mail story (“Revealed: Why Obama Loathes the British”) actually raised the question of whether Obama's anger at the BP oil spill was the result of familial contempt for the British -- as if a massive oil spill isn't reason enough for anger. A Kenyan relative of the president was actually asked about this. She assured the Mail interviewer that Anglophobia wasn't the source of Obama's anger. The quote was buried near the end of the story.
The other thing is, if you’ve read anything about Churchill, you’d know that, although he was the head of the government at the time of the Mau Mau rebellion, he was trying as best he could to get the British in Kenya to negotiate and to end the fighting. Churchill was not supporting or condoning the violence. He is actually one of the few British politicians who comes out of this smelling of roses.
So, no, Johnson is unlikely to be echoing American bigots. He's far more likely to be echoing British bigots.