In how many ways did the recent Summit of the Americas reveal that Bush is becoming marginalized? Visually, the answer is, more than was previously reported.
If you missed the story, just before the final group photo, it was concluded that Bush was positioned a little too close to his antagonist, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. (Chavez is circled in yellow in the top row, as is Bush in the bottom row.)
As a remedy, Bush shifted a couple slots to his left (as you can tell here in the official photo). Innocent enough, right? Well sure -- except that politics is a game that can never put enough emphasis on symbolism, territoriality and "who blinks first."
If more space really was called for between Bush and Chavez, was it a sign of Bush's current weakness (as well as his poor standing in Latin America) that it was"W" who moved, rather than Chavez? (Alternatively, did just the percieved need for distance expose the suddenly not-so-hidden weakness of Bush's character -- as a person who turns even the most trivial challenge into a point of honor, and can't stand even the suggestion of being looked down upon?)
The most tangible reason the positioning makes a difference, however, is because the American President is usually afforded the choice spot in these "class portraits" -- which is front row center.
Notice, for example, how Clinton is positioned (the center defined by the red lines) in the group photo from the April 2004 summit in Chile. (The fact there was an equal number of leaders in the front row made it impossible for Clinton to be any closer to the "exact middle.") Looking back at this year's Mar del Plata shot, on the other hand, Bush's prime position ended up in the lap of Argentine President and Summit host, Nestor Kirchner (marked above by the red "X").
As the summit concluded, the media took a keen interest in the Bush-Chavez separation story. What they seemed to miss, however, was "the mystery of the ambiguous portrait."
If you had the opportunity to see different newswire shots of the group photo, you might have noticed that they tended to be slightly different. That was because press photographers were present during the taking of the "Official Photograph of the Second Summit of the Americas" and produced any number of divergent versions. In comparison, though, what's strange is that the official portrait doesn't seem formal at all. Many of the players are looking off in different directions and are hanging out as if in-between takes.
Just like the Clinton shot shows the leaders waving to the camera, this A.P. image demonstrates that the summit photographer was going for the same effect this year. The fact the attendees actually did pose more formally and gave the wave makes it all the more curious that the Summit organization, affiliated as it is with the diplomatic Organization of the American States, would ultimately make the choice they did for the event's "official" remembrance. In going that direction, is it possible part of the appeal had to do with Bush's positioning?
In this exploded view from the official shot, what you see is the yankee seemingly excluded from a chat taking place between (from L to R) Barbados' Prime Minister Owen Arthur, Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe and Ecuador's President Alfredo Palacio. Just like the South American leaders shunned Bush and his proposals at the summit, could someone have taken a little too much interest in the way Mr. Owen turns his back to Bush for all posterity?
For more of the visual, visit BAGnewsNotes.com.