Obama bows to no one, unless you’re a Saudi king

Published 2:57 pm Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Chances are good you haven’t heard this one: that, while in Buckingham Palace last week, milling about with G-20 leaders, the current president of the United States bowed deeply at the waist, one knee bent, on meeting the current King, so-called, of Saudi Arabia, who did not bow back. Chances are even better you haven’t seen the video.

That’s because Big Media, from viewer-deprived networks to newspapers considering bailouts, have neither aired the video of the incident nor reported on it. (“The O’Reilly Factor” doesn’t count.) Washington Post reporter Michael A. Fletcher’s breezy dismissal of a reader’s online query exemplifies media disinterest: “I’m not sure what the etiquette is for such greetings, but I’m sure the president was only trying to convey respect … Remember some years ago when President Bush touched cheeks with and held the hand of a Saudi monarch during a visit to his Texas ranch? Another sign of respect. I would not make too much of it.”

Well, I would.

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The assorted supplications George W. Bush engaged in, from holding hands with and kissing Abdullah, to joining in a Saudi “sword dance” while trying to beg down the price of oil, made me sick then, and Barack Obama’s obeisance to the protector of Mecca and Medina (widely available online if not in the “news”) makes me sick now. But just as disturbing is the American reaction.

This includes, first, the unconscionable failure of media organizations to spare a few inches of column or seconds of airtime from Michelle Obama’s campy cardigans for this deferential display by the United States toward Saudi Arabia. But much of the mainly conservative blog commentary on the incident, while welcome as bona fide signs of life out there, has come off as strangely beside the point.

Or, rather, as largely limited to one point: etiquette. It’s true that Americans don’t bow to royalty, period — a point made repeatedly in blogs expressing frosty outrage over the incident as though the Obama-Abdullah bow were no more than a generic breach of protocol. A Washington Times editorial hammered home this same abstraction.

But an American bow to Saudi Arabia is more than “unbecoming,” as Clarice Feldman wrote at The American Thinker, more than “a simple but costly breakdown in basic command of protocol,” as Camille Paglia wrote at Slate, more than “baseness,” as Richard Brookhiser wrote at The Corner, and more than “the kind of rookie mistake you get from a president who was a state senator five years ago,” as Michael Goldfarb wrote at the Weekly Standard blog. It was calumny on a historic level.

King Abdullah, after all, is the head of a state that is the very caricature of modern-day evil, a Sharia dictatorship that fosters religious repression, de facto slavery, subjugation of women, and, not least, the international export of jihad and Sharia through “charities,” mosques, madrassas, textbooks, university endowments, Sharia finance and, of course, terrorists, some 15 of whom attacked the United States in 2001. Just last month, Abdullah elevated the delusionally hard-line interior minister Prince Nayef, who long promoted the crackpot theory that Saudis were not involved in 9/11 (it was the Jews, he said), to a direct line of succession to the Saudi throne. Abdullah himself has donated at least $1.35 million to Saudi telethons that raised $174 million for the families of Palestinian suicide bombers from Hamas and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. In 2007, Abdullah explicitly denounced the U.S. presence in Iraq as “illegitimate,” thus encouraging attacks on Americans in Iraq, where, not incidentally, Saudis are thought to have carried out more suicide bombings than any other nationality.

That’s just for starters. In other words, this is not a personage an American president can ever, ever show deference to without besmirching the memories and lives of the American dead and maimed.

But that’s just what President Obama did (despite lame claims from the White House that Obama was just shaking hands), making this incident more than a simple gaffe.

But it’s not much different from anything George W. Bush did. It’s time to acknowledge the similarities between Presidents Obama and Bush regarding Islam. Barack Obama hits the word “respect” repeatedly in regard to Islam, whose Sharia law, putting it mildly, disrespects non-Muslims and women; well, so did George W. Bush. Obama insists the United States is not at war with Islam; so did Bush. Who can forget the Bush mantra of “Islam is love” that began on 9/12? Maybe these Bush echoes account for the conservative block on really zapping the Obama bow here. Or maybe this is the consensus they want to live with.

Meanwhile, Obama’s Bush-like approach is depicted as something new under the Arabian sun. Akbar Ahmed, visiting chairman of Islamic Studies at the U.S. Naval Academy, calls Obama “the first president to talk about respect for the Muslim world.” Ridiculous.

What’s not ridiculous is Ahmed’s statement calling Obama “uniquely qualified … to really reach out and change the mood of the relationship between America and the Islamic world.”

Uniquely qualified indeed. Obama is the first Muslim-born U.S. president. Could that have something to do with the deepness of the bow?

(Diana West is the author of “The Death of the Grown-up: How America’s Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization,” and blogs at dianawest.net. She can be contacted via dianawest@verizon.net.)