Hillary Truth Reset Button

Switzerland Clinton RussiaRemember Tuzla Air Base in Bosnia-Herzegovina – where brave Hillary Clinton landed while under gunfire while trying to visit US troops in 1996? Except that she wasn’t remotely under fire, etc. Well, I’ve got bad news: Hillary’s on-again, off-again relationship with Truth is creeping back to the latter, if we can credit today’s New York Times article about the “gag gift” Clinton brought along to break the ice at her first meeting as Secretary of State yesterday with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.

What it was, was a red plastic button labeled “peregruzka” (that’s presumably перегрузка), which was supposed to be a “reset button” for US-Russian relations, a phrase Vice-President Biden had used in that context a month ago at the annual Munich Security Conference. “We worked hard to get the right Russian word,” Hillary said as she gave it to Lavrov. “Do you think we got it?” To which Lavrov replied, “You got it wrong.”

Rather undiplomatic bluntness from Russia’s top diplomat, I must say, but here it was warranted. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was holding himself back from uttering a nastier response. I myself am still just studying Russian, yet even I could tell right away that there was no way перегрузка could be right, and that was just from the пере- prefix, which carries meanings like “over” and “across.” (So that, as Lavrov went on to point out, перегрузка really means “overcharge” or “overload.”)

Yet “[w]e worked hard to get the right Russian word”? Horsefeathers! You missed it by a mile – there probably doesn’t exist one single Russian word for “reset” anyway, my dictionary suggests вновь установить or “set again” – and this while representing the world’s superpower, with a federal government budget of $3.6 trillion, a State Department of some 30,000 employees, and, for that matter, further tens-of-thousands of citizens – at least – from native-Russian-speaking households! Unforgivably sloppy! If Lavrov had somehow managed to get his helpers from KGB – sorry, it’s now called the FSB – to ply Clinton with some truth serum there in Geneva, she would rather have admitted something like “Sergei, we had to get you this cheap red button because my aide said that the Geneva novelty-shop was fresh out of Groucho Marx glasses when I sent him there at the last minute to get a welcoming present for you.” We didn’t need to hear that, but she could at least have spared us the guff about how “we worked hard.”

Oh – and the European press angle? Sorry, I almost forgot: the Danish news agency Ritzau reports today in various Danish papers (like here in Berlingske Tidende) how elements of the Russian media had their own fun with Clinton’s egregious Russian-language mistake. Kommiersant, for example, posted a picture of the button with the caption “Sergei Lavrov and Hillary Clinton pushed the wrong button.” And the TV station NTV called it a “symbolic mistake.” By the way, the Ritzau piece also speaks of how Clinton “underlined how the Americans had worked hard on the translation.” Yeah, right.

(But by now the more perspicacious among you, dear €S readers, are muttering something along the lines of “Why give us a Danish report of what the Russian press said about Clinton, why not just give us the Russian reports?” I’m working on that; as I mention above, I’m studying Russian when I can, and so hope to be able to add that language to the span of coverage here on this weblog sometime in the near future. Frankly, viewed another way, that might be taking things just a little too far. Remember that this is all a one-man operation – and wouldn’t you miss your friendly neighborhood EuroSavant if one day his head were simply to explode?)

UPDATE: I caught some video footage of the Clinton-Lavrov encounter (that’s a segment from Jon Steward’s Daily Show), where the Russian foreign minister stated that, in fact, perezagruzka (перезагрузка) was the word for “re-set” that Clinton had been looking for. OK, so the Americans were not that far off after all. I don’t find that term in my Russian-English dictionary, but all I have is a Collins desk-top edition and not one of those multi-volume works that include everything.

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