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Bow? Wow!

The conservative media and blogs have been having a field day parsing the bow that President Obama gave before Saudi King Abdullah in London last week. Some see it as a sign that he is submitting in fealty to Saudi Arabia. Others find ‘coded messages’ about how the US will submit to Islam. His act stirs up the canard that Obama is a ‘secret Muslim’. Below is the start of an editorial in the conservative The Washington Times that takes Obama to task.

EDITORIAL: Barack takes a bow

In a shocking display of fealty to a foreign potentate, President Obama bowed to Saudi King Abdullah at the Group of 20 summit in London last week.

Mr. Obama later said in Strasbourg, France, “We have to change our behavior in showing the Muslim world greater respect.” Symbolism is important in world affairs. By bending over to show greater respect to Islam, the U.S. president belittled the power and independence of the United States.

The bow was an extraordinary protocol violation. Such an act is a traditional obeisance befitting a king’s subjects, not his peer. There is no precedent for U.S. presidents bowing to Saudi or any other royals. Former President Franklin D. Roosevelt shook hands with Saudi King Abdulaziz in February 1945. Granted, Mr. Roosevelt was wheelchair-bound, but former President Dwight D. Eisenhower shook hands when he first met King Saud in January 1957. Mr. Obama’s bow to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques does not help his image with those who believe he is secretly a Muslim, and why he chose to bow only to the Saudi King and not to any other royals remains unexplained.

The fact is that Obama made a mistake. It is US diplomatic usage, dating from the days in which American broke away from the crowns of Europe, that Americans do not bow (or curtsy, as the case may be) to royalty, no matter who the American, no matter who the royalty. The thinking behind this is that an American, as a member of the Republic, is equal to any crowned or ennobled figure. It’s a custom; it’s a tradition; it’s a political statement. It is not a law, however.

Not bowing, however, does not mean that showing signs of respect are inappropriate. A ‘head bow’, inclining the head in the direction of the person being honored, is appropriate and is the norm in diplomacy. Obama over did it, perhaps, but he did not put the US in fealty to Saudi Arabia!

I’ll leave to the discerning student to analyze why a bow from the waist to, let’s say, a Japanese businessman is deemed perfectly okay while opprobrium and disdain are being heaped on Obama here. Correct answers should include hysteria, Islamophobia, and just plain loony-tunes thinking. Frank Gaffney, I’m looking at you…

Cross-posted at Crossroads Arabia.

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About John Burgess
Former US Foreign Service Officer serving predominantly in the Middle East. Probably best defined as an East Coast Conservative. I blog about Saudi Arabia, the importance of US-Saudi relations, and efforts toward reform in that country at Crossroads Arabia.

Comments

  1. Triumph says:

    His act stirs up the canard that Obama is a ’secret Muslim’.

    What “secret”? Hussein bragged about being a moslem to the Turkish parliament, for crissakes.

    This shoudn’t surprise us. We know that he was likely born in Indonesia, was schooled at a madrassa and remains tied to the Kenyan dictator Adewale Ogunleye.

    There is no secret about it–B. Hussein worships the Koran and is about as Muslim as Osama b. Laden.

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  2. Pete Burgess says:

    No relation to this blogger. The point is, while this mistake is rather insignificant, it is another sign that this new administration is poorly prepared to deal with subtleties that may give important signals of weakness to those who can take advantage. I still can’t help but feel that a bunch of intellectual adolescents are in charge.

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  3. John Burgess says:

    Yes, we’re seeing a lot of amateurism from a group that professed to be on top of things.

    Triumph: You’ve got quite a burden of proof before you.

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  4. just me says:

    Honestly this kind of mistake makes me wonder more just how on top of things his handlers are-those people who learn who is who and teach the basic protocol. Did they tell him and he forgot, or did they think they were so on top of things, they forgot.

    I see it as a mistake, but one that to me fits under basic American diplomacy 101 and Obama didn’t pass the test.

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  5. anjin-san says:

    Hey, let the right run with this. It is absolutely all that they have left…

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  6. Richard Gardner says:

    This reminds me of the US Navy rules regarding dipping the ensign (the national flag, not a junior officer) to another warship. US Navy Regs, Art 1263

    When any vessel, under the United States registry or the registry of a nation formally recognized by the United States government, salutes a ship of the Navy by dipping its ensign, it is answered dip for dip. If not already being displayed, the national ensign is hoisted for the purpose of answering the dip. An ensign being displayed at half-mast is hoisted to the truck or peak before a dip is answered.

    No ship of the Navy dips the national ensign unless in return for such compliment.

    Bottom line here is that no US Navy warship initiates the dip. Then again, most other countries’ warships likewise do not initiate a dip, but some merchants do, where the tradition began. That is the protocol, and of course mistakes are made occasionally by the 19 year old next to the flag halyard. All this stuff gets complicated in a hurry, and subject to misinterpretation.

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  7. JKB says:

    The bow was nothing more than a further demonstration that Obama has no clue what it means to represent the sovereignty of the United States. It was a mistake but one easily avoided if you are aware that as a direct representative of the United States you must always protect the sovereign status of the country while showing respecting and honoring the sovereign status of other nations the US has friendly relations.

    But perhaps, I took my commission and its implications too seriously when I was representing my country in foreign countries?

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  8. legion says:

    it is another sign that this new administration is poorly prepared to deal with subtleties

    Yes, we’re seeing a lot of amateurism from a group that professed to be on top of things.

    Obama has no clue what it means to represent the sovereignty of the United States

    Really, guys? Really?

    You all do remember, don’t you, that the previous holder of the office regularly embarrassed himself and this nation on the international stage, right?

    From being comi-tragically unable to walk off a stage to inappropriate fondling of fellow world leaders, Bush was a diplomatic disaster area. Was Obama’s bow a faux pas? Yes. Was it at all important to anyone who didn’t already hate the man? No. And as far as international diplomacy or the sovereignty of the nation, this ranks only slightly above his wife’s fashion choices on substance. Can we get back to a worthwhile topic now?

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  9. An Interested Party says:

    If this, along with the silly vapors over the ipod gift, are the best that those who dislike the president have to work with, they are in for a really long 4-8 years…

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  10. sam says:

    A a really, really long 4-8 years…but, as I said before, at least he did’nt kiss the dude or hold his hand.

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  11. Derrick says:

    If this, along with the silly vapors over the ipod gift, are the best that those who dislike the president have to work with, they are in for a really long 4-8 years…

    I can’t remember who, but a blogger labeled this the “OMG opposition”. We are going to have 4-8 years of constant, “OMG Obama [insert tiny mistake]”. It’s as if Republicans are completely missing the point of people’s outrage with Bush. While we all had a good laugh at the Bushisms, that’s all it was, a good laugh. The outrage was against the Iraq War, Torture, Cronyism and other really big things that shaped the oppositions view of his disastrous Presidency. Republican’s have a revisionist history of the Bush era, and it only makes them look petty when they think that this type of stuff plays to anyone but the previously converted.

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  12. Franklin says:

    Bush and Cheney both bowed to the Saudi king as well. Time to give up the complaints here.

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  13. Steve Plunk says:

    So many small mistakes makes me wonder when the big ones will come. Even an Oregon Okie like me would know as POTUS you don’t bow to anyone. You represent the entire country for gosh sakes.

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  14. Bowing to Foreign Leaders…

    John Burgess, writing on OTB, continues a meme about the Obama Administration’s “foreign policy faux pas,” stepping in to defend Obama’s bow to Saudi King Abdullah: “The fact is that Obama made a mistake. It is US diplomatic usage, dating……

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  15. Rick Almeida says:

    I, for one, would love to see a link demonstrating Mr. Burgess’ chagrin at President Bush’s fondling of Andrea Merkel.

    While I wait, I will prepare the fainting couch; it’s clear it will be getting a lot of use here at OTB.

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  16. John Burgess says:

    I’m going to heartily urge some of the commenters here to take advantage of the coming summer sessions at various high schools and universities to take a reading comprehension course.

    My post should have been pretty clear in expressing that I thought the flap was much ado about not much. I view the issue as not reflecting particularly well on the WH Office of Protocol for not sufficiently briefing POTUS on what was expected/required. I give Obama a pass because he’s clearly in OJT. So maybe he’s smart in a lot of areas. He pooched this one, though.

    But no big deal… it’s nothing bigger than the pseudo-flap involving “Ich bin ein Berliner”, i.e., nothing much at all.

    People will read into it whatever they want to read into it. No stopping that, now, is there?

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  17. brainy435 says:

    “I’ll leave to the discerning student to analyze why a bow from the waist to, let’s say, a Japanese businessman is deemed perfectly okay while opprobrium and disdain are being heaped on Obama here.”

    If you can show where the King bowed back in a sign of MUTUAL respect you may save this rediculous straw man from going up in flames. But I doubt it.

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  18. Drew says:

    I may be meeting with Prince Alwaleed in a few weeks. Should I bow?

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  19. brainy435 says:

    If it’s no big deal, why does the administration feel the need to blatantly lie about it?

    http://www.politico.com/blogs/bensmith/0409/White_House_No_bow_to_Saudi.html

    Being a liberal must be great: If you want to betray something you believe in, just change what it’s called and you’re home free. No sacrifice or responsibility required.

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  20. Alex D says:

    I’ll leave to the discerning student to analyze why a bow from the waist to, let’s say, a Japanese businessman is deemed perfectly okay while opprobrium and disdain are being heaped on Obama here. Correct answers should include hysteria, Islamophobia, and just plain loony-tunes thinking. Frank Gaffney, I’m looking at you…

    This comment itself is ignorant of Middle Eastern culture. In the Far East, bowing to each other is the norm. In Saudi Arabia, you only bow to the king. It’s pretty lame to accuse people of being “Islamophobic” when they have different reactions to incredibly different cultural contexts.

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  21. Jim Durbin says:

    So much misinformation here.

    Holding hands and kissing in Middle Eastern cultures is protocol. Bowing, even to the king is right out. Subjects used to bow to the king, but in 2005, Abdullah said Muslims shouldn’t bow to anyone but Allah. So I guess the good news is if Obama is a Muslim, he’s not a very up-to-date one.

    It’s a lapse of protocol and an embarrassment, and it does have consequences. He didn’t bow to any other monarch, and treated the Queen like a little old lady in a nursing home the day before. Apparently bowing is reserved for Saudi royalty. How will that play to foreign dictators who realize Obama wants so badly to be liked he’ll humiliate himself to show how the US isn’t any better than any other country?

    And then the White House lies about it, saying it was a two-handed handshake from a giant to a midget. Obama is 6’2″, the King is 5’6″. Eight inches requires genuflection? Why then does his right leg go back and his left hand stay at his side? The video clearly shows a deep bow. So he bows, then lies, ruining whatever point he was trying to make.

    Here’s the real problem. Obama has made a series of serious diplomatic mistakes where he could be seen as insulting the English and kowtowing to Arabs.

    If you can’t understand how this can be seen as amateur hour to the rest of the world, or a deliberate policy of weakness towards other nations, then you really have no standing to be discussing foreign affairs.

    It’s a perfectly legitimate topic. And it showcases just how unprepared Obama is to lead. If he can’t get protocol right (because he’s tired, nervous, or ignorant), what will he do in a real crisis?

    Protocol matters in foreign affairs. It matters in negotiations and in how the matters are played in the home press. Pretending it doesn’t is just damn foolish.

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  22. An Interested Party says:

    Obama has made a series of serious diplomatic mistakes where he could be seen as insulting the English and kowtowing to Arabs.

    Oh my gosh! The president really is a sleeper agent for the Islamofacists! We’re doomed…

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  23. I’ve quoted you and linked to you here.

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