The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Haven’t they filled the protocol positions yet?

March 7, 2009

Most of the time I look at the Obama Administration and think, with much relief, how nice it is to have grownups back in charge. When it comes to diplomatic protocol, however, the last few days have been pretty much amateur hour.

At least the Russians took State’s SNAFU with a bit more humor. Sue Plemming of Reuters:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with a red “reset button” to symbolise improved ties, but the gift drew smiles as the word “reset” was mistranslated into the Russian for “overcharge”.

“I would like to present you with a little gift that represents what President Obama and Vice President Biden and I have been saying and that is: ‘We want to reset our relationship and so we will do it together,” said Clinton, presenting Lavrov with a palm-sized yellow box with a red button.

Clinton joked to Lavrov: “We worked hard to get the right Russian word. Do you think we got it?”

“You got it wrong,” said Lavrov, smiling as the two pushed the reset button together before dinner at a Geneva hotel.

He told Clinton the word “Peregruzka” meant “overcharge”, to which Clinton replied: “We won’t let you do that to us.”

“We mean it and we look forward to it,” she said of “resetting” the relationship, a phrase that Joe Biden first used at a security conference in Munich.

Lavrov said he would put the gift on his desk.

I expect that Obama will find a way to make up for the DVDs and model helicopters. If his team starts sending key-shaped cakes (or any kind of cake, really) to Iran, though, then it will really be time to worry.

(H/t to Mark Safranski, who was right while I was wrong)

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.