Nov 19, 2009

Why did Obama bow to the emperor Hirohito of Japan?

America dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Most Americans have probably succeeded in forgetting this, if they ever knew it, but it is highly unlikely the Japanese have forgotten it.

You do not cease to be yourself when you become president of the United States. Obama had a clear run in his election to the Senate; his opponent withdrew unexpectedly at the last moment, leaving him unopposed. (Remember Napoleon’s demand of all the generals he appointed that they be lucky.)

Diplomatic protocol does not demand that any head of state should bow to any other head of state. Was Obama’s action a momentary oversight, practicing what he knew was a local form of courtesy, or was it deliberate?

Obama’s first action has to be to maintain, and even increase, the power he has; if he becomes powerless he can do nothing. This would come naturally to the little Luo, a member of the minority tribe in Kenya. Having allied himself to the most powerful groups around, he must then begin to increase the area of his own action independently of them, while continuing to keep them at least propitiated. So much is simple realpolitik.

I have often suspected that Obama may have the art of leading from behind. How does that work? Well, for example, the problem of graphic depictions of American brutality to conquered and imprisoned nations may arise. The trick is to keep the subject alive by occasional statements that these pictures can not be allowed to be made public, thus leaving the public to use their own imagination on just how awful the depictions might be, and leaving the busy army of hackers and diggers up of unsuspected corpses to get going on finding the actual videos or at least graphic descriptions of them. If public knowledge and outcry become overwhelming, you then pass the entire problem to a public prosecutor or independent investigator, and make clear the administration has zero control over them. You’ve done your best.

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