Commentary Magazine


Topic: Tokyo’s Imperial Palace

What’s It Getting Us?

Mike Allen, who pouted over the weekend that readers were complaining about the lack of coverage of the ”bow,” now seems to get it:

Greeting the Japanese emperor at Tokyo’s Imperial Palace last weekend, President Barack Obama bowed so low that he was looking straight at the stone floor. The next day, Obama shook hands with the prime minister of repressive Myanmar during a group meeting. The day after that, the president held a “town hall” with Chinese university students who had been selected by the regime.

The images from the president’s journey through Asia carried a potent symbolism that has riled critics back home. One conservative website called the episodes “Obamateurism.” Former Vice President Dick Cheney told POLITICO that Obama was advertising “weakness.”

But the Obami love all this. It is showing “modesty about our attitudes toward other countries,” our president tells us. No, it is submissiveness, not modesty. But modesty would be a good thing — for example, not telling Honduras what its constitution means and not bullying Israel on where Jews can live would be vast improvements. Allen tells us that Obama doesn’t like all those “bald assertions of American self-interest.” Yes, it’s a head scratcher because the American president is supposed to be doing everything in his power to advance American interests. Isn’t he? I thought that was in the job description.

Ah, but it’s all so clever. He really wants what is good for us, he’s just going to pretend he doesn’t all that much, thereby getting everyone to co-operate with us. The way to do this is by bowing, figuratively and literally, and showing we are in effect not only no better than others, but less deserving. (That’s the meaning of the low bow — the other guy has higher status.) Cheney explains: “There is no reason for an American president to bow to anyone. Our friends and allies don’t expect it, and our enemies see it as a sign of weakness.” What a quaint idea — that the president does not scrape before foreign leaders.

But is it working? The plan is to appear meek and mild and lure other countries into giving us stuff. But alas, it’s been a bust:

The pageantry of his trip is also playing out against a parade of disappointment: Administration officials have acknowledged that a binding international climate agreement won’t emerge from the Copenhagen summit next month. An arms-reduction treaty with Russia is going to expire Dec. 5 without a new one in place, forcing the parties to scramble to sign an interim “bridging agreement.” And Iran and North Korea have yet to deliver on Obama’s promise that U.S. engagement will yield better behavior.

And we’ve not exactly bowled them over in the Middle East or gotten anything from Russia.

You’d think Obama, who wanted ”smart” diplomacy and new “pragmatism” (determined to “leave ideology behind”) would take a look around and see what his team has accomplished: nothing. If they have no innate aversion, no skin-crawling reaction to the suck-uppery, perhaps the Obama team will at least recognize that it’s all been a failure. Then they can fire some people and start over. Unfortunately, that photo of the bow is forever.

Mike Allen, who pouted over the weekend that readers were complaining about the lack of coverage of the ”bow,” now seems to get it:

Greeting the Japanese emperor at Tokyo’s Imperial Palace last weekend, President Barack Obama bowed so low that he was looking straight at the stone floor. The next day, Obama shook hands with the prime minister of repressive Myanmar during a group meeting. The day after that, the president held a “town hall” with Chinese university students who had been selected by the regime.

The images from the president’s journey through Asia carried a potent symbolism that has riled critics back home. One conservative website called the episodes “Obamateurism.” Former Vice President Dick Cheney told POLITICO that Obama was advertising “weakness.”

But the Obami love all this. It is showing “modesty about our attitudes toward other countries,” our president tells us. No, it is submissiveness, not modesty. But modesty would be a good thing — for example, not telling Honduras what its constitution means and not bullying Israel on where Jews can live would be vast improvements. Allen tells us that Obama doesn’t like all those “bald assertions of American self-interest.” Yes, it’s a head scratcher because the American president is supposed to be doing everything in his power to advance American interests. Isn’t he? I thought that was in the job description.

Ah, but it’s all so clever. He really wants what is good for us, he’s just going to pretend he doesn’t all that much, thereby getting everyone to co-operate with us. The way to do this is by bowing, figuratively and literally, and showing we are in effect not only no better than others, but less deserving. (That’s the meaning of the low bow — the other guy has higher status.) Cheney explains: “There is no reason for an American president to bow to anyone. Our friends and allies don’t expect it, and our enemies see it as a sign of weakness.” What a quaint idea — that the president does not scrape before foreign leaders.

But is it working? The plan is to appear meek and mild and lure other countries into giving us stuff. But alas, it’s been a bust:

The pageantry of his trip is also playing out against a parade of disappointment: Administration officials have acknowledged that a binding international climate agreement won’t emerge from the Copenhagen summit next month. An arms-reduction treaty with Russia is going to expire Dec. 5 without a new one in place, forcing the parties to scramble to sign an interim “bridging agreement.” And Iran and North Korea have yet to deliver on Obama’s promise that U.S. engagement will yield better behavior.

And we’ve not exactly bowled them over in the Middle East or gotten anything from Russia.

You’d think Obama, who wanted ”smart” diplomacy and new “pragmatism” (determined to “leave ideology behind”) would take a look around and see what his team has accomplished: nothing. If they have no innate aversion, no skin-crawling reaction to the suck-uppery, perhaps the Obama team will at least recognize that it’s all been a failure. Then they can fire some people and start over. Unfortunately, that photo of the bow is forever.

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