During the Annapolis peace conference eight months ago, I counted that President Bush had arranged himself between a hand-shaking Israeli President Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on three distinct occasions. This established a new single-day record for executing the Middle East Money Shot-the classic pose of a U.S. President betwixt hand-locked Arab and Israeli leaders. At Annapolis, Bush also set a new all-time Middle East Money Shot record: including a previous pose with Abbas and Ariel Sharon, he has a career total of four, thus edging out Bill Clinton (2 Money Shots) and Jimmy Carter (1).
Yet, in the wake of France’s newly assertive leadership in the Middle East, Bush’s one major accomplishment in the Israeli-Palestinian sphere is under attack. On Sunday, during the "Union of the Mediterranean" conference in Paris, French President Nicholas Sarkozy made a hard-nosed pursuit at the Money Shot record, but ultimately fell short. In this vein, given my own conservative definition of the Money Shot comprising a clear handshake, I am only able to credit Sarkozy with one–this classic pose, which was achieved after Sarkozy patted Abbas’ head for a few brutally awkward seconds.
Even despite this Guinness-worthy failure, however, Sarkozy deserves recognition as an innovator in Arab-Israeli photo-ops. Indeed, even for a leader whose knack for glamorous poses is legendary, Sarkozy demonstrated profound creativity during yesterday’s conference. First, Sarkozy executed the unprecedented triple-bear-hug, pushing his impressively long arms more than halfway around the waists of his Israeli and Palestinian counterparts. Then, Sarkozy managed the we’re-talking-business-in-a-stately-room shot with both leaders-thus topping Bush’s typical shot with only one leader at a time in this position. Finally, Sarkozy pulled off an excellent rendition of the human chain, arguably improving on a pose that Bush developed during his record-setting Annapolis performance.
Still, the "Union of the Mediterranean" conference had one major photographic blemish. In an on-camera episode that might go down as among the most socially awkward in Middle Eastern history, Olmert and Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad stood mere feet away from each other, but avoided all eye contact. All of a sudden, it felt as though Sarkozy was hosting a middle school dance, rather than a Middle East peace process. Perhaps this is a good thing: as recent Middle East Money Shots have yielded well-choreographed pictorial optimism but zero results, the distance separating Olmert and Assad is a much-needed dose of reality.