Barack Obama may have made some mistakes at the Trinidad Summit of the Americas this weekend, but does greeting Hugo Chavez with a handshake qualify as one of them? Andrew Malcolm reports on the latest eruption over protocol by the President:
Bad enough, in conservative thinking, that President Obama appeared to bow to Saudi King Abdullah during the G-20 meetings in Europe earlier this month.
Now, Republican critics are pouncing on the president for his charm offensive at the just-concluded Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago. The charge: He let Venezuela dictator Hugo Chavez maneuver him into a smiling one-on-one photo, and he failed to answer Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega’s 50-minute anti-American rant.
“Ortega disrespected America,” fumed conservative commentator Pat Buchanan on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” today. Recalling that President Reagan rebutted Soviet leaders who trashed America, Buchanan said Obama should have responded to the rant.
Chavez broke off diplomatic relations with the US in 2008 after years of ranting incoherently about George Bush being the devil. Last weekend, Chavez announced that he might consider restoring diplomatic ties in consideration of Obama’s change in policies towards Latin America. At this point in time, however, neither country has initiated diplomatic contact.
Technically, protocol would dictate that the two leaders should not have public contact at the summit. A handshake with Chavez doesn’t represent the egregious break from protocol and tradition that bowing to the king of Saudi Arabia does, though. It probably isn’t as bad as a handshake with Raul Castro would have been, either, although that would have been a similar protocol failure.
Obama has specifically promised to improve relations with Venezuela, including holding presidential-level talks, so this greeting was to be expected. At least this time, Obama limited himself to a handshake for a head-of-state greeting, rather than bowing (and scraping) as he did on the European Grand Tour.
Letting Ortega’s rant pass with just a quip about its length, though, deserves some scorn. If the President doesn’t want to defend his country at these international gatherings from unfair diatribes, what’s the point of attending at all?