Exclusive: What Happened to Diplomacy Delivered with Pride?

by JIM HORN August 2, 2008

What has happened? Where is the outrage?

When I was freshly commissioned as a Foreign Service Officer in the Department of State, I learned something about America that made me proud. It was just a small incident in American history, but it was a profound point that has stuck with me at all times, and with many others - but not enough others.
In 1881, the first American Diplomatic Envoy was sent to Siam (Present day Thailand). When going to the Royal Palace to present his credentials to the king, the envoy was told that the procedure and protocol to follow was to enter the king’s chamber and to prostrate himself, on his knees with his forehead on the floor, etc. to begin his credentials presentation.
Ambassador John A Halderman responded that he was the personal envoy of the President of the United States of America and that no personal representative of the President would or should ever so denigrate the office of the Presidency and perform such a humiliating act. He refused to be subservient as advised. At the appointed time, he just walked into the king’s chambers, stood politely, facing the king, and presented his credentials, standing erect and proud. The King of Siam did not appear to be offended, and accepted this presentation of credentials. This firm act of professional diplomacy established a high level of mutual respect that has long endured between the U.S. and Thailand.   
Ambassador Halderman established a precedent that has been followed, honored, and respected for over a hundred years. Neither has any President or professional American official done any less when meeting foreign heads of state - until now.
George Bush recently went to Saudi Arabia to beg for more oil, and was compelled to perform in an embarrassingly silly “sword dance” ceremony. Yet after this, he was refused the oil he requested.
Early in his Presidency, President Bush hosted the King of Saudi Arabia at his Crawford Ranch, and during the visit allowed the Saudi king to grasp his hand, an act that while a common show of friendship in the Middle East, elicited plenty of snickers and raised eyebrows here at home.
What is the State Department’s office of Protocol up to? What is the Secretary of State, the President’s chief advisor on dealing with foreign nations doing? Hello? Is anybody home over there in Foggy Bottom? Where were the White House advisors? Condi Rice, the Chief of Protocol, and all others involved in this fiasco should be severely taken to task for permitting such denigration to occur.
I would hope that the next President is able to assemble a group of foreign affairs advisors who can do their job with a degree of pride and professional respect that seems to be absent today.
Family Security Matters Contributing Editor Jim Horn is a retired Foreign Service Officer who has served internationally for more than 25 years as a U.S. diplomat. Feedback: editorialdirector@familysecuritymatters.org.

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