Author Richard Bach once said ““Every problem has a gift for you in its hands.” But what is the problem is the gift? That is the problem being contemplated by the Obama Administration after a series of truly embarrassing gift gaffes that make the country look cheap, unsophisticated, or ignorant — or all of the above. The gaffes range from an insulting gift inadvertently given to the Russians by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to a returning of a gift to England to the lack of class in giving gifts to the English Prime Minister.
Clinton thought that she had a novel idea for a gift by giving Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov a gift-wrapped red button that was supposed to say “reset” in Russian and English. It didn’t. “Peregruzka” means “overloaded” or “overcharged” and is viewed as a term of hostility. When Clinton look at a confused foreign minister asked if they got the word right, he said tersely, “You got it wrong,” Lavrov said. “This says ‘peregruzka,’ which means overcharged.” Clinton responded with a bit of a forced laugh and said “We won’t let you do that to us, I promise.” For the full story, click here. One would have hoped that a few people at the State Department might actually speak and read Russian as opposed to looking up terms in “Russian for Dummies” or wherever this particular word for found.
It was not a good week for Clinton after she got the names of EU diplomats wrong and left people shaking their heads at statement like:
“I have never understood multiparty democracy.It is hard enough with two parties to come to any resolution, and I say this very respectfully, because I feel the same way about our own democracy, which has been around a lot longer than European democracy.”
The European griped that they traced their democratic traditions to ancient Greece. They have a point. Madison and others cited the democratic roots of ancient Greece in forming our own representative democracy. For the EU story, click here.
The Obamas came off not as much uneducated as uncouth. First, the Obamas sent back a famous sculpture of Winston Churchill that had been loaned to President George Bush and sat in the Oval Office. I can certainly understand that desire to decorate the Oval Office as the Obamas prefer. After all, they kept Bush’s rug. However, they might have found another spot in the White House. Instead, they returned the gift, which rubbed many Britans the wrong way. The British had expressly offered to extend the loan for four years but the Obamas said that they would prefer to send it back. For the full story, click here. It was an odd decision because it is a widely respected and striking bust that was a very thoughtful cultural gift from our allies.
I am more sympathetic over the bust decision (though I believe it would have been wiser to keep it or send it back with greater tact) than I am the controversy over the gifts to Prime Minister and his family. Anyone who has traveled on official delegations will attest to the importance of gift exchanges. In the case of Gordon Brown and his family, the British did it right. Brown gave Obama a unique pen made from the wood of the HMS Gannet, the sister ship of the HMS Resolute. The President’s desk is made from the wood of the Resolute. For history bluffs like myself, it was an exciting and incredibly thoughtful gift. Brown also gave Obama a framed commission for HMS Resolute and a first edition of the seven-volume biography of Churchill by Sir Martin Gilbert. For her part, Mrs. Sarah Brown went to extraordinary lengths to get the correct sizes of Malia and Sasha to buy them dresses and matching necklaces from one of England’s best shops, Topshop. She also gave the girl’s pre-publication copies of children’s books.
What did we give the Browns? A box of 25 DVDs of movies like ET that you could pick up for less than $200 in England. It left the impression for some British citizens that we thought that they did not actually have things like DVDs or somehow missed the release of The Wizard of Oz. For the Brown boys, Fraser and John, the Obama’s gave them cheap replicas of Marine One which appeared to have been grabbed in the White House gift shop shortly before the event.
I am truly the last person to object about such issues of the protocol. However, I agree with irate British writers that the treatment of the Blairs was insulting and embarrassing. The First Lady has an entire office and staff that is dedicated to such events. It is indeed one of the most important jobs of the First Lady. The President has an entire cadre of protocol specialists. We looked perfectly wretched in all of this. It is not the diplomatic slight. As a private host, I would have felt obligated to show more effort for a visitor from abroad.
The new Administration may have a considerable number of tasks at hand but they should work a bit harder on acquiring a bit more tact.
For the full story, click here.