A mild stir was created last week during the G20 summit when it appeared that President Obama bowed to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, a breach of diplomatic protocol that didn’t sit well with some. The commotion, which had pretty much died down over the weekend, flared back today with a vengeance when the White House tried to convince us that President Obama didn’t bow to the king at all, but merely had to stoop to shake the king’s hand.
Honestly, last week I thought the story was a little interesting, but I was willing to chalk up the ill-advised guesture to Obama’s naivete of protocol. Now, however, the White House seems determined to make sure we call an apple an orange. Above you can see the picture of Obama “stooping” to the king. Not particularly damning, I know, as it’s a bit unclear what he’s doing.
Again, the bow itself doesn’t enrage me and set me on the warpath. It does irk me a little, as it did when President Bush kissed and held hands with the Saudi king a few years ago, because while our leaders should show respect to other leaders, they don’t need to show such fawning deference, particularly to the leader of a country as repressive as Saudi Arabia.
No, the response of the White House bothers me much more than the act itself. The smart thing to do would have been to just let the story die on its own, or if you are forced to make comment, laugh it off as a rookie mistake that won’t be repeated in the future. Instead, the White House is telling us to disbelieve our own eyes, as if they’re pulling some sort of Jedi mind trick on the nation. (“This isn’t the bow to the Saudi king you were looking for…”) Such a blatant manipulation of obvious facts, over so small and insignificant a matter as this, doesn’t speak well to the much-vaunted openness and transparency of this administration.