Sunday, June 7, 2009

Obama Offers Some Bad Advice

Perhaps he was fatigued from having expended so much energy ingratiating himself with the world's tyrants and autocrats, but President Obama did not have enough good feeling left to accept a dinner invitation offered by the president of France.

In diplomatic talk, that is considered a snub. It downgrades a relationship. Much in the same way that Obama has assuredly downgraded the American relationship with Israel. And much in the same way that he insulted the Prime Minister of England with his clumsy attempt at gift-giving.

When the press asked the president to explain the snub, he responded with these words: "I think it's very important to understand that good friends don't worry about the symbols and the conventions and the protocol."

This is wrong in fundamental ways.

First, Obama and Sarkozy are not good friends; they barely know each other. Theirs is a developing relationship.

Second, friends do not remain friends if they do not respect the conventions and the symbols and the protocol. When you publicly insult a friend by snubbing him, you are seriously undermining that friendship.

In fact, friendship can only thrive on constant shows of formal and ritual respect.

Third, when a head of state snubs another head of state it damages the relationship between the nations. Obama and Sarkozy are not just two guys developing a friendship.

Worse yet, a snub normally elicits a diplomatic counterattack. It launches a cycle of recrimination and payback. The minimum we should expect of our president is that he does not travel around the world insulting heads of state.

When you are dealing with your own friends, or when you are trying to cultivate a new friendship, pay close and special attention to the conventions, the symbols, and the protocol. Otherwise, you will very quickly find yourself friendless.

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