Enough about the royal iPod already

The obsession with the very minor details of diplomatic protocol has gone way overboard.

Published April 2, 2009 3:40PM (EDT)

To read some blogs on Wednesday, you'd think that President Obama's gift of an iPod to Queen Elizabeth II, and his use of the word "England" when he really meant "the United Kingdom" had so offended British honor that they'd decided to scrap the Treaty of Ghent and start the War of 1812 all over again.

"President Obama has such a track record of violating protocol and inflaming our allies through the casual, careless tossing out of insults that, just over seventy days into his presidency, another case of an embarrassing international Obama gaffe barely causes the twitch of an eyebrow among those who have been paying attention to his words and actions," Jeff Emanuel wrote on the conservative blog Red State. "Contra what the Bush-hating left claimed about that former president’s supposed wrecking of international relationships and of America’s image abroad, Obama’s personal pile of 'rubble' has already grown well beyond that which Bush left behind -- and we’re only about five percent of the way through with the current president’s first (and hopefully only) term."

Elsewhere in the blogosphere, like at Gateway Pundit, there was concern over whether Michelle Obama had curtseyed and whether she'd violated protocol by touching the queen, and even whether President Obama had violated protocol by using two hands for his handshake instead of one.

There's been some criticism from liberals of the mainstream media's coverage of all this, some implications that it's not worth coverage. I disagree with that -- as long as important stories get covered, too, there's room for fluff. But this obsession with very, very minor niceties of diplomatic protocol, like what gifts get handed out, is just ridiculous. (For the record, the queen gives every visiting foreign head of state the same gift: a painting of herself and Prince Philip. How gauche, right?)

Maybe it's just because I'm not much for minor protocol details myself, but seriously: If this is the kind of thing that makes or breaks relationships between countries, if the people in charge of foreign policy break up longstanding alliances over gift quality, don't we have bigger problems than an iPod to worry about?

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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