Thursday, June 20, 2013

Pakistan, umbrellas, Jeffrey Osborne and R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

Back in the day, journalists could plausibly stand in awe of President Obama's great attention to detail on foreign policy.  He pronounced Pakistan the way Pakistani natives pronounce it.  It was about respect.
His aides know that this is an area where the president wants to be right. In Obama’s view, pronouncing someone’s name or hometown correctly is a simple way of showing respect, they say. It’s a sort of baseline diplomacy. That’s particularly so in foreign relations, where aides say the president will privately practice pronouncing a leader’s name a number times before saying it publicly.
It's this frame that makes some of the president's actions troublesome.  Take Mr. Obama's decision to direct attending Marines hold hold umbrellas as he and a visiting diplomat spoke on a recent rainy day in Washington D.C.

We have a commander-in-chief concerned about pronouncing Pakistan correctly but not concerned about respecting Marine tradition.  It's about respect.

The president's defenders tried to flip it around:
So what was the grave transgression? It seems that Marines (except, bizarrely and somewhat patronizingly, female Marines) are not supposed to carry umbrellas, according to military tradition. Fine, but in fact, they weren't carrying them in the sense that they weren't holding them over their own heads – they were protecting the president (which, in fact, is part of their job while at the White House). Also, the president is the commander-in-chief, and while that is not strictly a military rank, he does outrank the servicemembers there to protect him. That's the point.
The president outranks the U.S. soldiers attending his functions.  That's the point.  He can have them bend and shine his shoes on the spot if he chooses.

No, that's not the point.  It's about respect.

More recently, Mr. Obama repeatedly referred to British dignitary George Osborne as "Jeffrey."  The president apologized, offering that he was confusing the dignitary with his favorite R&B singer, Jeffrey Osborne.

Pakistan.  Umbrella.  Jeffrey Osborne.

It's about respect.  Who and what does the president respect?  He's either very careful about showing respect or he is not.

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