Sunday, 2 March 2014


"Okay, I'll accept the charges"

by Colin Liddell

With the unfolding situation in the Crimea, we have now passed beyond polite diplomacy to the point of power projection. In nature this is equivalent to the moment when two alpha males cross each other's paths and start to square up. In those first few moments how each animal displays his power and confidence may be key to deciding the fight.

In the realm of international geopolitics, this projection naturally takes place through the media with the release of carefully worded statements and equally carefully selected imagery.

The first image to be released from the White House in this context – a shot of Obama on the phone – is thus a good indication of how we can expect the tense geopolitical standoff to develop.

The White House staffers have obviously thought long and hard about this image. Obama is standing up in what we are supposed to see as a "dominant" position, with the Presidential flag behind him showing the mighty American eagle clutching a bunch of arrows, symbolic of America’s vast sky army of drones and other airborne nasties.

Also significant are the two windows, flanked by red curtains (the colour of war!). These no doubt symbolize two separate vistas or possibilities, one of conflict, the other of compromise. The window on the left with the 'open' chair below no doubt symbolizes compromise by symbolically inviting Putin to "have a friendly sit down" with the Prez (and retreat entirely from the Ukraine).

His rolled up sleeves send a double signal. On the one hand, Obama is prepared for casual interaction – one imagines shooting a few hoops in the White House driveway. On the other, it could suggest he is prepared for hard work. But, given his reputation for laziness, we should assume it's the former, not to be the latter.

On his desk we have the all-important tools of communication, the telephone and a black plastic device that may well be a fax machine. This strikes rather a discordant note, not because both are probably made in China, a close ally of Putin's Russia, but because the fax suggests a certain outmodedness. Of course, this may just be touch of hipster irony, but how are the Russians supposed to understand that?

More troubling for the United States in the Commander-in-Chief's rather fey pose. His hand is daintily draped on his hip, giving him a rather effeminate atmosphere. The hand seems to be there to both steady him and advertise the receptivity of his hip area. Needless to say this sends out a very weak signal in geopolitics and will greatly embolden Russian confidence.

Another weakness signifier is the phone cord. Notice how it not only seems to tie him to his desk, thus limiting his room for manoeuvre, but also the cord still has a lot of slack in it, as if the President were too feeble to fully extend it. This may seem a trivial point, but a tauter phone line, would send out a signal of "straining at the leash" and impart a certain menace to the shot, something that Nixon was a master at during his time in the Oval Office.

The weakest point of the chosen image, however, is Obama's shirt. Look closely at the sleeve of the arm with which he is holding the phone. A white ticket of the type used by dry cleaning shops to identify customers is clearly attached. This is the kind of detail that the Russians are sure to notice.

This reveals a certain absent-mindedness on the part of Obama, who has failed to take it off despite having worn the rather crumpled shirt for several days. But it also sends out a major signal of weakness, suggesting not only that this is a man incapable of wrestling the Crimea from Putin's grasp, but also one who can't even get his wife to clean his shirts.

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