President Obama bowed to Japanese Emperor Akihito yesterday at his palace in Tokyo.
ABC’s Jake Tapper:
“This picture shows two things,” my friend writes.
“1) The ‘right’ is wrong about Obama’s bow.
“2) The ‘left’ is wrong about Obama’s bow.
“His bow is neither (1) unprecedented nor (2) a sign of cultural understanding.
“At their 1971 meeting in Alaska, the first visit of a Japanese Emperor to America, President Nixon bowed and referred to Emperor Hirohito and his wife repeatedly as ‘Your Imperial Majesties.’”
“Yet, (and?) Nixon gets the bow right. Slight arch from the waist hands at his side.
“Obama’s handshake/forward lurch was so jarring and inappropriate it recalls Bush’s back-rub of Merkel.
“Kyodo News is running his appropriate and reciprocated nod and shake with the Empress, certainly to show the president as dignified, and not in the form of a first year English teacher trying to impress with Karate Kid-level knowledge of Japanese customs.
“The bow as he performed did not just display weakness in Red State terms, but evoked weakness in Japanese terms….The last thing the Japanese want or need is a weak looking American president and, again, in all ways, he unintentionally played that part.
RN greeted Emperor Hirohito with a bow at a 1971 meeting in Alaska .
The new issue of the New York Review of Books has a short op-ed, which first appeared as a blogpost last week at the magazine’s site, by Garry Wills, professor emeritus at Northwestern University and author of several dozen books about religion and American history. His efforts in the latter field include his Pulitzer-winning Lincoln At Gettysburg, and his bestselling 1970 book Nixon Agonistes, which, in many ways, became the template for many of the books critical of the thirty-seventh President since then.
Wills’s article, in the space of about six hundred words, offers his opinion about what President Obama should do in Afghanistan. After the President returns from his whirlwind trip to Japan and China, it will be time, as Sen. John McCain pointed out this week, to make the final decision about how many more troops to commit to the eight-year fight against the Taliban, and for how long.
A considerable number of voices in the media and in the blogosphere have argued in recent weeks that the plan toward which the President seems to be leaning – an increase in the troop levels in Afghanistan, whether or not this corresponds to the 40,000 that the commanders in the field think is required at this point – is not one he should undertake. Wills is one of these voices.
In his article he contends that the arguments in favor of maintaing a military presence in Afghanistan are “the ones that made presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon pass on to their successors in the presidency the draining and self-lacerating Vietnam War.”
It’s worth mentioning that when President Nixon resigned in August 1974, I don’t remember any column or op-ed piece on the subject – and they were legion – which said that the Vietnam War was an ongoing conflict that Nixon had passed on to Gerald Ford. As far as the liberal pundits were concerned in those days, we were well and truly removed from that conflict for good. The North Vietnamese took such sentiments to mean that if they tried to overrun South Vietnam, the United States would do nothing to stop them.
And in the spring of 1975 this proved to be true when Congress rejected President Ford and Secretary of State Kissinger’s appeals to aid South Vietnam, disregarding the promises made by President Nixon to protect the sovereignity of that nation when the Paris peace accords were signed in January 1973 – promises made to protect peace, but which Wills, evidently, regards as an extension of war.
He goes on to say that “when we did withdraw, the consequences were not as fatal as those we incurred during the years that saw the deaths of over 50,000 of our soldiers and many more Vietnamese.” Well, it’s true that while many died in Vietnamese prison camps after the South was defeated, the numbers were not equivalent to the number of Vietnamese that died in the course of the war. But in Cambodia, a nation that fell into the hands of the Khmer Rouge at the same time as South Vietnam was conquered, far more civilians died in four years of “peace” than in the preceding years of war.
Cambodia is worth keeping in mind when one looks at what follows in Wills’s commentary:
Some leader has to break the spell before costs mount further while our wars are passed from president to president. Among other things, this will give our military a needed chance to repair the wear and tear on men and equipment that the overstretched regular services and the National Guard have suffered, and to make them ready for other challenges.
We are in Afghanistan in response to a challenge, if one could call the bloodbath of 9/11 such. The Taliban, with no provocation from us, allowed Osama bin Laden and his henchmen to use their nation as a base to launch the vicious attacks of that day. In the eight years that Americans have fought and died to make sure that the Taliban would not have the chance to abuse the rule of a nation in such a fashion again, it has become more and more clear that, if it were allowed to regain power, it would not only take bloody revenge on every man and woman hoping for a civilized life in Afghanistan – that is to say, perhaps as large a percentage of the population as died in Cambodia – but would do its best to help its allies in northwest Pakistan overthrow that nation’s government, and thus gain control of nuclear weapons. Then we would see “other challenges,” on a scale so abominable that “wear and tear” on our tanks and airplanes would be the least of our worries.
Yesterday’s announcement that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other 9/11 conspirators will be tried for murder in New York is a reminder of what American servicepersons in Afghanistan are trying to protect us from. I hope that during their trial, enough testimony is presented about the Taliban’s acquiescence in bin Laden’s evil to remind even Garry Wills of why we have to fight in Afghanistan, and why the consequences of withdrawal would be so tragic.
In his op-ed, Wills says that Obama should get our troops out of Afghanistan even if the response to such an action results in his being a one-term President. A man so familiar with American history should remember that the subject of his Pulitzer-winning book persevered in 1864, in the face of calls from many of the pundits of his day to make peace with the South on its terms, and, within a matter of months, prevailed. The Gettysburg Address, indeed, explains just what the United States is fighting to preserve and protect now. Perhaps Northwestern’s professor emeritus of history should reread it.
Ron Howard’s acclaimed film Frost/Nixon, based on Peter Morgan’s play which was a hit in London’s West End and on Broadway, depicts two men as the architects of the famous set of TV interviews with President Nixon: the future Sir David Frost and the future Baron John Birt, the host and producer, respectively, of the broadcasts which mesmerized the nation in 1978. However, the play, and movie, leave out the contributions of a third man: Marvin Minoff, a veteran agent and the president of Frost’s Paradine production company, who was co-executive producer of the interviews.
It’s hard to say why Minoff’s role remained undepicted in the play and movie; it may be that Morgan, and later Howard, thought that the late Irving “Swifty” Lazar was such a colorful representative of showbiz mores in Frost/Nixon that adding another agent, while truer to history, would diminish the effect. In any event, Howard does not mention Minoff’s absence in his DVD commentary to the film, though the director gets around to discussing many of its other departures from the historical record.
Minoff died this week in Los Angeles at age 78. After the Frost-Nixon interviews, he went on to marry Bonnie Franklin, One Day At A Time’s Ann Romano, who survives him. He also joined forces with Mike Farrell of M*A*S*H* fame to produce a series of TV movies and two features: the little-remembered Dominick and Eugene with Tom Hulce and Ray Liotta, and Patch Adams, which elevated Robin Williams’s tendency to bathos to such a staggering level that the star has ever since downplayed sentimental roles in favor of “edgy” and “dark” dramatic parts. But with the Frost-Nixon series, Minoff made his mark on American history as well as American entertainment.
In Tokyo today, President Obama said: “As America’s first Pacific president, I promise you that this Pacific nation will strengthen and sustain our leadership in this vitally important part of the world.”
The president was in error. Though he was apparently referring to his birth in Hawaii and brief childhood sojourn in Indonesia, he is not our nation’s first Pacific president. If a “Pacific president” is one born and raised in a Pacific state, that distinction belongs to Richard Nixon, born in Yorba Linda, California in 1913. Indeed, RN spent a much greater proportion of his life near the Pacific than President Obama has. He grew up in Whittier, went to Whittier College, practiced law in Southern California, did naval service in the Pacific, represented California in the House and Senate, ran for governor of the state, and for years had a home in San Clemente. Between the Vietnam War and the opening to China, Pacific Rim affairs were a major focus of his presidency.
Other presidents also had significant experience in the Pacific. William Howard Taft served as Governor-General of the Philippines. Herbert Hoover spent much of his childhood in Oregon, graduated from Stanford, and spent years as a mining engineer in Australia and China. Dwight Eisenhower had military duty in the Panama Canal Zone and the Philippines.
And there was also some fellow named Reagan…