President Obama has attracted furious criticism and commentary for performing a deep bow when greeting Japanese Emperor Akihito.
This is not the first time a U.S. leader was in a difficult position. Protocol calls for diplomats to respect foreign traditions so they do not appear to be rude.
Here is how I would have handled it if I were the president:
I would have shaken Akihito’s hand and I would, by my sheer size, towered over him. I would have bowed my head slightly, just like I would bow when meeting the mayor of San Diego at a cocktail party, no less, no more.
This is what I would have thought and projected:
Akihito, you may be the emperor of Japan and the last link of an ancient empire and monarchy. Your father was the emperor during World War II who gave the order to attack my country at Pearl Harbor in 1941. You got your title by inheritance and birthright. I earned mine. I am the president of the most powerful country with the largest economy in the world, and I was elected to be that country’s leader. I respect who you are, the traditions of your country and the position your country affords you. I respect you as a person. But I bow to nobody, and I have earned that right.
“Nice to meet you, Your Highness. You can call me Mr. President.”