Foreign Policy

Barack's Backbone Aria


Supercilious Chinese guy looks down his snooty snoot at our president.

Another picture of President Obama inclining his upper torso toward a foreign potentate—this time China's premier Wen Jiabao—has surfaced.

Folks are furious.

"We have to deal with China as though we are a superpower–Not like we are a Jr. Senator from Illinois begging the Chinese leader to stay," says one commenter in a thread I'm participating in.

"Obama's begging—that's his body language," says another.  "And reading the comments below that pic makes me want to puke.  Bunch of jello-brained Obots."

In the past, Obama has bowed to Wen, to the monarchs of Japan and Saudi Arabia, and to General Zod's disappointing son, a student at Sidwell Friends.

In each case, the bow has drawn the kind of catcalls cited above. Let me preface my opinion by saying that of course, every time the president of the United States shows excessive respect to the leader of a major American trading partner, the terrorists are emboldened, the Russians seize back more of their former empire, and our national cock becomes an inch shorter. But I think a people whose only experience of physical courtesies comes from church may be missing some subtleties in a calculated presidential bowing campaign.

President Obama rendered helpless in the finger-breaking grip of Premier Wen Jiabao

The first thing to remember is that in modernity it's almost never true that we bow down before the one we serve. Excessive servility came into its own with Uriah Heep, who is always humbly working somebody over to his own advantage.

There's an acting-class truism that if one person leans back calmly in his or her chair, and the other leans forward in his or her chair, the power of the scene accrues to the leaner-back. The signature scene for this principle is probably the opening of The Godfather. In real life, exactly the opposite holds true. The leaner-forward draws all your attention. That person is excitable, interested, and possibly ready to attack. The person leaning back, well, who does he think he is?

Americans love to tell stories of how our informal manners once impressed courtly foreigners. My favorite is the reminiscence of a captured Wehrmacht soldier: "All the Americans were chewing gum, which made them seem especially insolent and contemptuous." But there is more conveyed by courtly manners than a simple power dynamic.

This shouldn't need stating, but the United States is still obviously the most feared and powerful state on the planet—as the lousy foreigners demonstrated last year, when they had a real opportunity to destroy our currency and wipe out our government, but chickened out and decided to let us do it to ourselves. There is absolutely nothing lost when a president makes an obsequious gesture. It's the equivalent of the old handshake trick where you say "Ow, ow!" and hunch over as if the other guy's grip is so firm that your fingers are breaking. You can call me old-fashioned, but I still think a deep bow is less creepy than two men holding hands, unless they're really in love.

In fact, if there's something to object to in Obama's bowing, it's that he gave such a shallow sampling of his superbly honed posture to Queen Elizabeth II—the only monarch left who's worth being nice to.

How can you learn more about the gradations of the bow? After years of print obscurity, my very favorite Alan Moore comic is on teh interwebs. "The Bowing Machine," a collaboration with Mark Beyer from the days of Japan Inc., can be seen (with some unfortunate loss of detail) here. I suspect neither Moore nor Beyer had an especially deep understanding of Japanese customs, but it's an impressive feat by a couple of bignoses imagining themselves into a culture of infinite deference.

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  1. The leaner-forward draws all your attention. That person is excitable, interested, and possibly ready to attack.

    Well, in judo if someone is coming at me leaning over like that I can choke them out in about five seconds.

  2. Obama should just throw caution to the wind and flip off every foreign leader he meets. Then apologize each time, saying it’s some greeting he picked up in Indonesia. Then he “slips up” and does it again.

    If he fails to do follow my directions to the letter, I fear his presidency is doomed to failure.

    1. IOW, act French.

      1. Not quite, but it’s an analogous level of assholeness.

  3. The first thing to remember is that in modernity it’s almost never true that we bow down before the one we serve.

    you’re going to get what you deserve. 😉

  4. What bugs me is not the bowing per se, but the fact that Obama seems to be a poor international negotiator overall. The bowing is just a small symptom of his larger lack of bad-assery in this area.

    1. +1

      Well put counselor

  5. Jesus, this almost makes me miss Ronald Reagan. At least he tried to appear macho by riding a horse. I don’t think this pussy BO could ride a horse.

    But I remember during one of the Olympics there was a big to-do about weather we’d dip our flag for courtesy. Fuck no we wouldn’t! We’re the God damned USA. We don’t bow to anyone.

  6. Perhaps he was just trying to look at the guy at eye level. I mean, c’mon — there’s plenty of real issues to attack him on.

    1. Like whether or not his birth certificate is real.

  7. A thing you’re missing is that President Worldly does all?and I do mean all?his gestures of worldliness wrong, like he learned them in some kind of Ugly American telephone game. Which he kind of did. So they all look like Jackass pranks.

    “Tell the Emperor his wife has a huge dried booger on her shoulder, and pretend to chew it off. It’s a traditional greeting almost no Americans know about. The Emperor will think you’re awesome.”


    1. It is interesting. The media raved about the “sophisticated” Obama, especially compared to that supposedly uneducated cowboy who preceeded him, and yet Bush seemed far smoother and more knowledgeable about this sort of thing.

  8. I think every president should do a

    “fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, your’re cool, fuck you.”

    1. Should they also throw a hamburger bun at one of them?

  9. Kneel before Zod!

    I give that bow a B+.

  10. I have lived and worked overseas (Hong Kong and Mainland China, amongst other places) several times and for several years during my life (so far). I speak 3 dialects of Chinese (two fluently, and read and write) have an undergraduate major in Asian culture (in addition to economics).

    Tim commits the cardinal sin of dealing with any culture other than one’s own – projecting his/our own sense of what is cool, hip or “powerful” onto other people’s sensibilities. It ain’t so. Just because you think the big O is “psyching” everyone out with his too cool for the room genuflecting doesn’t mean that’s how the Chinese, Japanese or Russians perceive it.

    1. what if we kicked them in the nuts?

      1. Troy, you have to be more specific. Is he kicking a Cantonese man in the nuts, or a Fukinese? If Fukinese, is he using his left foot, or right foot? These subtelties lead to great differences in meaning and subtext.

  11. as the lousy foreigners demonstrated last year, when they had a real opportunity to destroy our currency and wipe out our government, but chickened out and decided to let us do it to ourselves

    This just made me splutter all over my keyboard. I may have misjudged Cavanaugh.

  12. It’s actually worse-looking coming from a black guy. Comes across as “Yas, Suh , Massah Wen. I will do yo’ biddin’ heh heh.”

    There’s a lot of truth in those actions, as any borrower is beholden to his lender to a point, but it brings out a certain servant aesthetic that is magnified by the historic stereotype of an African-American bowing to his superiors. I know this isn’t Obama’s intention, but that is the cultural history we live in and you’d think someone would remind him of that.

  13. Don’t be fooled by the Queen. She’s one of the richest people on Earth, the largest private land owner on Earth and one of the head Illuminati.

    1. And one of the best fucks I ever had. (which is saying something).

      1. Oh, come on, Walt, the only other sentient creature you did was Wilt Chamberlain and it was only because he felt sorry for you.

  14. Come on. He’s not bowing in that picture, he’s just slouching.

    1. Gotta agree totally with you here. I can’t tell if Tim’s joking when he says Obama’s bowing in that picture or that anyone thinks he did.

      That said, bowing is an embarrassingly stupid gesture. Bowing is what you do when you just finished your tap-dancing act. Or when you’re nose-deep in monarch’s ass.

      1. Or when you vomit or get kicked in the nuts.

    2. Yeah, that’s just a lean. I’ll join the critics of the other bows, but he gets a pass from me on this one.

  15. And you guys are, as always, viewing everything through the lens of oral sex with this lean-back/lean-forward stuff.

    1. Aha! Great time for Caption Contest!

      Wen: Do you want to be the husband or the wife?

      Obama: Uh, the husband.

      Wen: Then get over here and suck your wife’s dick!

  16. “Another picture of President Obama inclining his upper torso toward a foreign potentate — ”

    He is just pretending to be anti-Statist to get the Libertarian vote for next time.

  17. Bowing is just bowing. The cock sucking abroad and bashing of the motherland in an attempt to gain a little favor with those abroad is bullshit. No matter how subtle. It’s kind of funny to watch his US bashing abroad backfire in some cultural circles. No one likes a self loather.

    1. And if anyone deserved a better bow it was the queen of England. After his wife felt her up and the Obama’s essential played retarded “American” in front of the queen she deserved a little more respect. Not to mention she has seen more in her life than any 5 people in the room with her at anyone time.

      AT 14 years old in the middle of WWII, and she was already playing the role of diplomat to her people. That kind of longevity has earned a bow.

  18. bowing is better than shaking hands as it’s much less likely to spread disease. I hate slimey handshakes anyway – it’s just irritating that you have to go wash your hands again.
    Btw, in some parts of S.E. Asia, if you cross your fingers and say “good luck” you’re basically saying, “fuck me.”

    1. Oh shit!
      I thought all those women were just hoping for my future.

  19. 2010 elections just can’t get here fast enough. The sad thing is that the Alex Jones types keep sounding more and more like they know something that we don’t.

  20. Too bad nobody took pictures of Obama bowing to Bill Ayers during their many conversations.

  21. I think a bunch of these comments show how much eaiser it is to pretend to be a world expert on something. I suspect Imogen RW was being rather modest by claming to have limited experience of opera. She certainly quotes an awful lot of up-to-the-minute performances.
    Sell Gold

  22. Waiting for his best work still to come, he is a real good leader, I promise he will make US back to same what it was Sell Gold

  23. I do not see him as bowing to Premier Wen, but he is making no connection. Obama’s eyes are closed. He is absorbed in his own gestures and words. Wen is upright, stiff, hands tightly clasped in front of him. This is a fending off posture, not a receptive one. The look on Wen’s face is tight. You could say it’s a skeptical look but I think it’s more contempt or superiority. Regards Premature Ejaculation Pill

  24. Are you all really talking about bowing here?

  25. He is a good leader but are really discussing his bowing?

  26. Obama simply needs to practice his bowing more so that he becomes a great world leader not to mention

  27. First of all this never would of made the news if he was a republican! and the idea of bowing to a leader in the mideast is like giving a hand shake in the west so lets get over it it was not such a big deal, oh and Bush licking Putins ass was no problem huh. Greys Anatomy Scrubs

  28. After the unconstitutional act of war in Libya, my support for him has definitely declined broken laptop

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