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Boris Johnson Does America | The Nation

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In April 2003, Boris Johnson stood, awestruck, in Baghdad, staring into the remnants of a house blown apart by an American bomb. He was in Iraq on a fact-finding mission: He had voted for the invasion in his capacity as a Conservative Party lawmaker and was there to check out the aftermath. He was also working there as a journalist, documenting his experience in the British weekly The Spectator.

“Crumbs,” he recalls thinking as he surveyed the scene. “Crumbs” is an affected British expression meaning “gosh.” It also referred to the fragments left of the house; Johnson explained the wordplay, in case we didn’t get it. The ruins, he went on, were a neat metaphor for what the United States had done to the Iraqi regime, as well as the broader “range and irresistibility of America.” The “liberated” Iraqis he saw in Baghdad “were skinny and dark, badly dressed and fed.” The Americans “were taller and squarer than the indigenous people, with heavier chins and better dentition,” resembling “a master race from outer space, or something from the pages of Judge Dredd.”

These days, Johnson has made himself known as an opportunistic charlatan who campaigned for Brexit in order to become prime minister, became prime minister, then embarked on a reckless bid to throw the United Kingdom out of the European Union. Because of his bald careerism, his critics characterize him as a vacuum of beliefs—a black hole into which principles disappear. But one narrative has come up consistently in his writings and public statements over the years: Johnson is in genuine awe of the raw global power of the United States.

America, he has said, is the “greatest country on earth” and the United Kingdom’s “closest ally.” The United States’ rise he sees as the great story of the past century, upholding the idea that “government of the people, by the people, for the people should not perish from the earth.” For Johnson, American culture is a unifying, binding force that other pretenders to superpower status (China, Europe) lack. He has written of the thrill of flying in an American fighter jet, of strolling the Santa Monica Pier in California at sunset, and of the consummate Americanism of the film Avatar. Johnson also seems to believe the United Kingdom is in America’s league and should be treated that way. That view may well complicate efforts to negotiate a post-Brexit trade deal, but it doesn’t undermine his clear belief in a strong US-UK relationship.

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