Saturday, April 3, 2010

Diplomatic Rudeness

Some people like Mark Steyn's edgy prose style. Others, not so much. It's a matter of taste.

As we know, there's no arguing with taste. As they used to say in the old country: de gustibus non est disputandum.

Steyn's new column recounts in excruciating detail the diplomatic slights, insults, and disses that President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have been visiting on our erstwhile allies around the world. Link here.

Inexperience matters. Inexperience is not just when our leaders fail to grasp the complexities of a situation; it is also in evidence when they ignore diplomatic protocol.

Most recently, Hillary Clinton went up to Canada for a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. There, in her most schoolmarmish posture, she took the opportunity to lecture the Canadians about their attitude toward their indigenous peoples and their policy on abortion.

You may sympathize with her politics, but she was completely out of line. A more amateurish gesture could not have been imagined. You might not be surprised, considering that Hillary Clinton was elevated to the job of Secretary of State without even a minimal understanding of foreign policy, but still, she is supposed to represent us.

In the course of his article Steyn offers a list of the foreign leaders-- leaders of nations that have longstanding friendly relationships with America-- whose company at lunch and dinner has been systematically rejected by our neophyte president.

In France Obama refused a dinner invitation from Pres. Sarkozy. Last week he walked out on a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to have dinner with his family. In place of dinner with the British Prime Minister he allowed him a walk-through of the U.N. kitchen. And then: "Visiting Norway he declined to dine with the king in a banquet thrown explicitly in Obama's honor."

Steyn offers a number of explanations for why Obama has rejected invitations from a growing list of friendly foreign leaders. Whatever the reason, the behavior is rude. Would you ever imagine not showing up at a dinner that was being held in your honor? Would you ever imagine not showing up at a dinner where you were representing your community and being honored in its name?

I would guess that it would never even cross your mind to refuse a host's hospitality. You know what Obama does not know, namely that having dinner with a friend or a relation solidifies your relationship. Dining together has always been a formal ritual that expresses and affirms your connection with another person.

The ritual is not optional. If you reject it you are rejecting another person's hospitality and that is a very grave offense indeed. It makes your host look bad; it makes you look bad; it damages your relationship.

Presidents set examples. And not just when they give speeches. They set examples in the way they conduct themselves in public.

A president who observes the rules of proper decorum will induce his citizens to behave with greater civility. A president who rejects those rules, because he thinks that he is too good for diplomatic niceties, will induce his citizens to involve themselves in contentious disputes.

Confucius would have said that a leader's most important function is to obey the rituals, to practice the formal gestures of respect.

If a leader observes rituals religiously-- that means, to a fault, no matter what-- he will help produce a culture of respect in his nation. If he does not, he will contribute to a culture of drama and contention.

As for Obama's bad manners and Hillary Clinton' s bad behavior, I would strongly recommend that you not try it at home and that you not visit it on any of your friends.

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