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Tuesday, July 18, 2006
The Touch of Diplomacy

At the end of what surely has been a dreadful G8 summit, President Bush surprise massages German Chancellor Merkel from behind. Internet commenters are torn on whether this was an innocent display of affection, or, an act of sexual harassment. Bloggers seem to come down in favor of the latter.

Taylor Marsh: "This is why Iraq and the Middle East are in flames, and we have no credibility around the world. We have a prepubescent president in charge. It is an outrage."

The Idealistic Pragmatist says that it was a cultural faux pas:
Far from showing his great "love" for the chancellor, what this event really illustrates is Bush's appalling insensitivity to the fact that not everybody else's culture is just like his own. In Germany, this will be perceived not as a joke, but as a man showing a woman her place. Don't look so shocked, Mr. President--there are actually places in the world where you don't get to massage the shoulders of a woman (and a fellow world leader) whom you barely know. After six long years of hobnobbing with the international elite, I'd think you might have figured that out.
The Pragmatist also provides translations of how the German newspapers reported on the incident.

Majikthise sums it up this way:
Every woman will recognize the guy who sidles up and starts "casually" giving you a backrub without even looking at you, because he wants to preserve deniability in case you freak out. Like any practiced groper, Bush stares right past Merkel as she recoils from his touch. The play fails, but he just moves on, eyes averted, like it's her problem. ("Oh my God, there's a hysterical woman displaying inappropriate behavior! I'll just pretend I don't notice her egregious gaffe.")

Was it sexual harassment, or, an innocent touch? Ballon Juice and Hot Air, left and rightist commetary respectively, draw remarkably differing conclusion. (Both are very amusing to read.)

The Weekly Standard listed Angela Merkel as one of Bush's "Fab Five Foreign Leaders." Current Argus notes last Wednesday's German daily's headline: "What Does Bush Find So Fascinating About His Girlfriend Angela?" The Argus speculated: ""There's a personal chemistry that works for them," said Helga Welsh, an associate political science professor at North Carolina State University who specializes in U.S.-Europe relations." and that Merkel is the new Blair. The Guardian cartoonist seems to agree with that.