Lately, I’ve been drawn into discussions with Americans–most of them Republicans–about various issues. It’s been an interesting experience; most of them differ wildly from both European conservatives–usually for the better–and from common European stereotypes of Republicans–again, usually for the better. (Some, sadly, don’t. I suppose even stereotypes have to start somewhere.) (If you’re a Republican, and unaware of the stereotypes, maybe you’re better off that way. No, seriously.)
And now I can’t help myself: there’s going to be a blog series on U.S. politics.
This being me, it isn’t going to be a re-hash of any positions I’ve found elsewhere. It’s going to be more of meta-analysis and digging through backgrounds. I’m sure that it will be apparent that I, like most Europeans, have a bias for the Democratic party (when polled, Europeans seem to be divided like 75%/25%), but it’s not like I’m a paying member or anything; it’s a different country and even a label that I would have assumed to be straight-forward, like “liberal”, has a weirdly different meaning over there.
Today, I have an Observation.
At the latest convention of the UN General Assembly, Obama showed up and held a speech, but didn’t meet any other heads of state. This seemed to incense Republicans; then again, many of them get incensed whatever Obama does. Or doesn’t. No big surprise there: like Parkinson said, “[it doesn’t] make the slightest difference whether he learned his politics at Harrow or in following the fortunes of Aston Villa. In either school he will have learned when to cheer and when to groan.” But what struck me as odd was the specific importance they attached to the meetings. I think this attitude is more common among Republicans, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was also wide-spread among Democrats: it was as if meeting the U.S. president was a grand prize, which should be awarded to foreign heads of state like some kind of boon:
Pope Benedict XVI
A bit like this. You’re allowed to bask in his presence for a while, maybe a bit of the sheer awesomeness of the President will rub off, and then you can go back and maybe one day you’ll be just as awesomely American.
Not surprisingly, this isn’t exactly how most people see it. Most people will actually only want to see the U.S. President because they want to get something out of him.
If you’re head of the average sub-Saharan African state, the occasion will feel more like this:
The “Please, Sir, can I have some more?” scene from Oliver Twist
Chances are you’ll get a ding around the ear, but that’s only marginally worse than you were off before, and maybe you’ll catch him on a good day, you never know your luck.
European heads of state might also see this as an opportunity to get something, but it will feel a lot more like you’re visiting a “lender of last resort,” and not the wishy-washy banking type of lender.
“My uncle is Very Concerned”: don Corleone demonstrates one of his two identical facial expressions
You don’t want to attract the attention of this guy unless you really, really need that favour. You’ll count yourself lucky to get out with all the bits still attached (for don Corleone, that’s all your limbs; for a country, that’s all your provinces).
Dictators also want to get stuff, but of a different class altogether.
The Gov... sorry, Terminator: 'Phased plasma rifle in the 40 watt range?' Gun Shop Owner: 'It's only what you see, pal.'
After all, the U.S. has, for reasons of Realpolitik, funded various people who it might, in hindsight, have been better to keep unarmed. Saddam Hussein and the Taliban are two examples which I first tried to call “blatantly obvious”, but honestly, I’m not sure there are words in the English language to accurately describe that situation.
Much of the flak for Obama was due to the fact that he didn’t want to meet Netanyahu. Israel has a special relationship to the U.S., and in all likelihood, Netanyahu would have viewed the meeting something like this.
Ho Ho Ho.
Then again, what Netanyahu wishes for Christmas is probably that something be delivered to someone else. Address label reading something like “Tehran”.
Of course, I can’t deny that there are people who would see the event something like this.
Hint: it’s not a bird, nor an airplane.
I even played in an orchestra with one of those people. He was, frankly, rather tiresome in his lack of conversation topics that did not, at some point, revolve around baseball or something else the origin of which could not reasonably be misidentified. The thing is, though, that very few of them ever reach a position where they would be likely to come near the U.S. president in a UN setting, as most of them would emigrate to the U.S. at the earliest opportunity. Many of them will then spend much of their spare time commenting online news stories back in the Old Country, seemingly completely livid at their abandoned home for a) generally failing to be the U.S., b) specifically having numerous shortcomings not found in contemporary U.S., such as lack of colour TVs, CD players or iPhones, depending on during which decade they happened to emigrate.
But the thing is, many Americans seem to unquestioningly assume that an audience with their president should be a coveted event.
Frankly, most of us would never have noticed had he failed to show up at the UN altogether. Because odd as it might seem—to an American—mostly, we don’t think a whole lot about you.
And when we do, you really shouldn’t be too certain it’s in a good way.