In a series of five posts titled “Why is this man bowing?,” I noted Barack Obama’s disgusting bow to the Saudi King in London. My persistence on the subject was prompted by the blackout on the story by the mainstream media. Neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post carried a story about it. Neither did the news services nor FOX News.
Then this week the story emerged from the shadows of the Internet. Ben Smith ran an item on Politico with the White House denying the bow. “It wasn’t a bow. He grasped his hand with two hands, and he’s taller than King Abdullah,” said an Obama aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Bill O’Reilly ran a bemused segment on it once the White House denied what Obama had done.
As John Hinderaker noted, on Thursday a reporter asked Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs about the bow. Under his own name and on the record, Gibbs denied what any fool could see. Indeed, one astute observer commented on CNN that “Ray Charles could see that he bowed.” (Michael Goldfarb noted the observer’s comment.)
Why the lying? Perhaps Obama realizes he made a mistake. As the American head of state, protocol dictates that president does not bow to royalty. Yet Obama holds himself out as a sophisticate and cosmopolitan. His ignorance of the governing protocol is both a personal and national embarrasment. The Office of Chief of Protocol apparently remains unfilled by an appointee. Is it better to lie than to admit a mistake?
Perhaps admitting that the bow was a mistake would be an insult to the King of Saudi Arabia. Yet even his Muslim subjects don’t bow to him. It’s hard to see how the frank confession of error would cause offense.
So, once again, why the lying? It reminds me of a story deriving from the early days of the Carter administration. Early in the Carter administration, Jimmy Carter’s micromanagement of White House affairs extended even to approval of use of the White House tennis court. When questioned about it, Carter simply lied. In his Atlantic article looking back on his work as a speechwriter for Carter, James Fallows recalled:
[D]uring his first six months in office, [Carter] would personally review all requests to use the White House tennis court. (Although he flatly denied to Bill Moyers in his November 1978 interview that he had ever stooped to such labors, the in-house tennis enthusiasts, of whom I was perhaps the most shameless, dispatched brief notes through his secretary asking to use the court on Tuesday afternoons while he was at a congressional briefing, or a Saturday morning, while he was away. I always provided spaces where he could check Yes or No; Carter would make his decision and send the note back, initialed J.)
Fallows found Carter’s control of the White House tennis courts symbolic of a larger error. By the same token, Obama’s bow may signify something like his clueless compulsion to prostrate himself before the Islamic world. In an extended consideration of “proskunesis” or obeisance, Raymond Ibrahim explores the possible impulses behind Obama’s bow and places the bow in context:
Not only is the Wahhabi king a symbol of the most “radical” form of Islam — it’s not for nothing that 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers, not to mention bin Laden, were Saudis — but his Sharia-enforcing kingdom is cited as one of the worst human rights violators in the world. Bowing to this man was therefore symbolically a bow of submission to radical Islam and all its attendant human rights violations.
This is compounded by the fact that, immediately preceding this ignoble bow, Obama was busy profusely apologizing to the Islamic world, insisting that the U.S. is not at war with Islam — and “never will be.” Jihadis the world over must have been relieved to know that not only does the leader of the most powerful Western nation have no intention of naming them or placing them in context — so much for that first strategy of warfare, “know your enemy” — but that nothing they do in the future will ever cause the sleeping infidel giant’s leader to arouse it.
Ibrahim’s column is must reading. I don’t know why the White House is lying, but Ibrahim’s column persuades me that it is highly likely the prevarication is caused by multiple overlapping factors. It is what the Freudians characterize as overdetermined.