If ever a political assault on the media misfired, it has to be the appalling attack last Friday by White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer in the White House blog on Charles Krauthammer, one of Washington’s most highly respected newspaper columnists.
Pfeiffer chastised Krauthammer scathingly for misstating the fact that the Obama White House in 2009 returned the bust of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the Oval Office to the British embassy, a humiliating slap in the face to the British. Not only did Pfeiffer get his facts wrong, but he also rekindled outrage over the way the Obama Administration has treated an old, trusty, and very important U.S. ally. Nice work, Mr. Pfeiffer.
In his Friday Washington Post column, Krauthammer referred to the Churchill incident in the context of writing about Mitt Romney’s trip to Britain, contrasting Romney’s respect for the “special relationship” between Britain and the United States with Obama’s indifference. In a matter of hours, Pfeiffer blew his top and blogged that Krauthammer’s claim was “ridiculous” and “100 % false.” “The bust [is] still in the White House. In the Residence. Outside the Treaty Room.”
The only problem is that that is actually another bust of the British prime minister. The one referenced by Krauthammer is back in the British embassy, as the Brits hasted to confirm. Pfeiffer since published what The New York Times called a “weasley follow up,” which in no way amounted to a retraction or apology to Krauthammer.
Apart from showing up the deplorably casual relationship of the Obama White House with the truth and its hypersensitivity to criticism, this incident also recalls its distain for the “special relationship” between Britain and the United States. Obama calls himself America’s first “Pacific President.” Growing up in Asia, being the son of an African father, he has no natural affinity for Europeans.
Not that this should excuse his shabby treatment of the British, which includes the return of the Churchill bust, the humiliating treatment of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown during his first White House visit in 2009, the iPod with Obama’s speeches given the Queen of England as a “ceremonial” gift, the support for Argentina over the Falkland Islands, and assorted other breathtaking lapses of diplomatic protocol.
Needless to say, the British tabloids, collectively known as Fleet Street, thrive on these American lapses, declaring gleefully in their headlines the “special relationship” to be dead, on the rocks, in decline, etc. However, the British–American alliance is one that goes very deep.
The relationship between the United States and Britain is not only political but civilizational as well. It is centuries old, based in common history, language, culture, values, and political systems, both countries growing from the same common root. In fact, the phrase “special relationship” was coined by Winston Churchill himself as he described the U.S.–U.K. common front against Communism.
Churchill himself was half American (on his mother’s side). Symbolically, his statue outside the British embassy on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington is deliberately positioned so it stands with one leg on British soil and the other on American.
Maybe the significance all of this is lost on the present White House. But one thing is certain: The “special relationship” between our two nations will persist long after the Obama Administration has passed into history.
UPDATE: Facing a storm of criticism and another scathing Krauthammer column on Monday, demanding an apology, Dan Pfeiffer Tuesday swallowed his pride and bowed to pressure. In a personal email he apologized, and at the behest of Krauthammer made the apology public. “I take your criticism seriously and you are correct that you are owed an apology,” Pfeiffer wrote Krauthammer. “There was clearly an internal confusion about the two busts and there was no intention to deceive. I clearly overshot the runway in my post.” Even if entirely uncharacteristic of the Obama mode of operation, Pfeiffer is to be commended for taking responsibility for his mistake and acting as an adult.