Tag Archives: Bill Clinton

Iran and the US Learn How to Flirt Diplomatically

Diplomatic body language: Bill Clinton, Yitzhak Rabin, Yasser Arafat at the White House 1993

Diplomatic body language: Bill Clinton, Yitzhak Rabin, Yasser Arafat at the White House 1993

Veteran British diplomat Sherard Cowper-Coles says that handling a meeting with Iranian diplomats “after a deep chill” will require patience. Western diplomats will need to “avoid the temptation to cut straight to the chase. It’s very important to spend time on what are much more than opening courtesies.”

It would important to display a knowledge of Iranian history and civilization—but watch out for little gaffes, “like calling the [Persian] Gulf the ‘Arabian Gulf.’”

It’s also not a good idea to overpraise, especially in public. In 1977, then-president Jimmy Carter went to Tehran. At a dinner with the Shah of Iran, Carter raised a glass to his host, and then raised his rhetorical glass even higher.

“Iran—because of the great leadership of the Shah—is an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world,” said Carter. “This is a great tribute to you, your majesty and to your leadership and to the respect and admiration and love which your people give to you.”

A few days later, street protests began in Iran, leading eventually to the revolution, and decades of enmity with the United States.

There are, though, plenty of skillful ways to send a message in a diplomatic setting.

Nancy Soderberg, a diplomat under President Bill Clinton, remembers when the Administration agreed to receive Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at the White House. For Arafat it was big coup to get invited to the president’s home. But there were limits.

Arafat wasn’t allowed to bring his pistol, which he took everywhere with him. And then there was the hugging: Arafat was a big hugger. It just wouldn’t do to have him photographed hugging the president of the United States.

“Right before the meeting President Clinton was being taught by his aides this jujitsu move where if you grabbed Arafat’s elbow, pushed your hip out, there was no way he could hug him,” said Soderberg. “That’s exactly what Clinton did to avoid a picture of him being hugged.”

Arafat did eventually did get his man—seven years later. He and Clinton were finally captured locked in embrace, on neutral territory—Switzerland.

Not that you’d expect quite such warm body language between Obama and Rohani this week. One step at a time.


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Globish, health care, and a Facebook misunderstanding

This week, the case for and against Globish. A group of writers and artists debate the proposition that a simplified version of English is uniquely equipped to take over the world. That argument is made by Robert McCrum in his new book, Globish. (The term globish was popularized by Jean-Paul Nerrière to mean an emerging and simplified form of English used by non-native English speakers). McCrum believes that English is the ultimate open-source language: it welcomes, absorbs and adapts foreign words like no other language. What’s more, its grammar is relatively simple, which makes it more suited to universality than, say, Russian or Arabic. Wait a moment…Russian and Arabic, as complex as they are, are spoken across dozens of borders. In any case, perhaps it’s all that global travel that has turned English into a grammatically simpler language. This point, and many others, come from John McWhorter‘s New Republic critique of Robert McCrum’s assumptions. Read other reviews of Globish here, here , here and here. (I could link on and on; the man clearly has a magnificent publicist).

Also, now that millions more Americans have health insurance, clinics and hospitals are under pressure to make their services more accessible to non-English speakers. The pod has a report from Kansas City.

Then, a quick update on World Cup TV viewing habits in the United States with Brad Adgate of Horizon Media. If you think that only Spanish speakers watched Univision, and only English speakers watched ABC and ESPN, think again.

Finally, a conversation with Gregory Levey, whose book Shut Up, I’m Talking has more Facebook fans than Bill Clinton. Gregory has concluded that these are fans not of his book, but of the expression shut up, I’m talking. He’s trying to figure out how — or even whether — to address these followers. It’s the curse of having come up with a catchy, slightly obnoxious book title. In our interview, I suggest to Gregory that for a future book, he might consider the title I Hate When One String of my Hoodie Becomes Longer Than the Other. That title would come with more than 1.5 million Facebook fans, even before publication.  Our original, 2008 interview with Gregory Levey, about his adventures writing speeches for the Israeli government is in two parts, here and here.

Listen to the podcast  in iTunes or here.

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