Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Presidential Etiquette

I am a little troubled by President Bush’s surprise visit to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. When he was in President school he must have missed the class on manners and the gaucheness of appearing unannounced on the doorstep of foreign heads of state. You didn’t see President Reagan turning up at 10 Downing Street when Margaret Thatcher still had her hair in curlers, and even Bill Clinton didn’t wander in when Tony Blair was changing Leo’s diapers.

At least Prime Minister al-Maliki knew he was going to be on TV that day, so he hadn’t taken the day off. He expected it to be a satellite hook-up, and while a lesser politician might have decided he could get away with a dark blazer and a pair of old pants, he turned out in the full get-up. Nice red tie.

If the reports are correct and the Iraqis only had five minutes warning, it doesn’t seem fair that the US contingent had weeks to prepare their statements. I know how these things work: I was a great fan of The West Wing in those early days when Rob Lowe, as the Presidential speech writer, sat around for days tweaking phrases and debating the nuances of adjectives. He did take the occasional break to date ladies of questionable character. What a set-back to the political situation if Mr. al-Maliki’s speech writer had chosen that day to take his dog to the vet or the translator had been AWOL.

Then there is the matter of lunch. If someone comes all that way, even unannounced, you have to offer him refreshments. I hope that the Iraqi government hadn’t planned on eating leftovers that day while they honed their talking points for the video conference. Perhaps they sent out for pizza.

See what a mess you make, George, when you don’t follow protocol. Where’s Letitia Baldridge when you need her?

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