US President Barack Obama is greeted by Emperor Akihito upon arriving at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo November 14, 2009. [Agencies]
WASHINGTON: Some American conservative commentators are seizing on President Barack Obama's deep bow to Japan's emperor during the weekend, accusing the US commander in chief of groveling to a foreign leader.
Obama greeted Emperor Akihito, whose father ruled when Japan bombed a US naval base at Pearl Harbor in 1941, with a simultaneous handshake and nearly 90-degree bow, sparking furious online commentary, much of it negative.
Obama's gesture on Saturday was not without precedent, however. Neither was the outrage.
US presidents from both political parties often have been criticized for attempts at culturally sensitive greetings to high-ranking foreigners.
Former President George W. Bush, a Republican, was mocked for holding Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah's hand, a traditional sign of friendship in the Middle East, as they strolled together in 2005.
In 1994, former Democratic President Bill Clinton was criticized for almost bowing to Akihito. The resulting image, The New York Times wrote, was of "an obsequent president and the emperor of Japan."
Former President Richard Nixon, a Republican, can be seen in a Life magazine photo from 1971 bowing to Akihito's father, Emperor Hirohito.
Obama's awkward encounter with Akihito bows are not meant to accompany physical contact is not even the first time the president, a Democrat in office less than a year, has been criticized for his greeting of a foreign leader: Critics accused him of genuflecting to Saudi King Abdullah at a world economic summit this year.
The current bow comes during a highly charged political time in the United States. Conservatives are strongly opposing Obama's policies, especially his plan to overhaul the US health care system, and they have seized on any perceived stumble by the president to support their message on talk radio and in blogs.