GET IN LINE.
As the EU referendum campaign accelerates, the mud-slinging is keeping pace. This was never more evident than Boris Johnson’s claims in the Sun newspaper that President Barack Obama’s “part-Kenyan” heritage and “ancestral dislike of the British empire” were the reasons behind his arguments for the UK to stay in the European Union and his decision to remove the bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval office.
Johnson has his defenders such as Iain Duncan Smith who on the BBC noted that Johnson’s comments “simply referred to some of the reasons why Obama may have a particular lack of regard for the UK,” Britain’s foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, however, put him in his place by noting in the Telegraph that, ”People who aspire to hold offices of great responsibility do have to show that even under pressure they retain their cool and they don’t step over any red lines.”
There is no doubt in my mind that Johnson more than overstepped the line. Politics is a dirty business and it is understandable that a US president wading into this controversial debate would raise hackles of the ranks of the leave campaign. However, such narrow-mindedness is surprising in a man who is known for his razor sharp intellect. Undertones or overtones of racism should not be tolerated and pointing to Obama’s roots is not a strong counter-argument especially when it has long been US policy to support British membership of the EU.
The President, himself, took the higher moral ground and did not respond except to say that he thought even Britons would understand why he might find it ”appropriate” to replace Churchill with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. instead.
Johnson would have been wiser to look towards Obama’s upbringing. Spending time in Indonesia as a child as well as in Hawaii with his maternal grandparents probably had a greater influence on his worldview. It helps explains why he has tried to forge closer ties with the region. This has not only culminated in the “Pivot to Asia” strategy – a cornerstone in the administration’s foreign policy – but also the efforts that have gone into making the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact a success.
Some might like to believe that the focus will turn back to the UK and Europe once Obama leaves office. If that is the case, they should listen carefully to Hillary Clinton and even some of the Republican candidates. Asia will remain an important plank in the strategy. This does not mean though that the special relationship between the UK and US is not valued. Old friends are important but if the UK decides to leave the EU, then it would not be surprising to see the US forge newer ties with its European peers.
Americans may hold onto the past but moving forward is ingrained in the culture. Anyone who doesn’t understand that should move to the back of the queue.
Lynn Strongin Dodds