Amusement Park Diplomacy

Channeling "The King," Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi wears gold-rimmed sunglasses and plays the air guitar for Priscilla Presley, center, and Lisa Marie Presley, during his tour of Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley, in Memphis, Tenn., on Friday, June 30, 2006. (Photo: AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

Last week, President Bush took Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan on a tour of an important American landmark. It wasn't the White House, it wasn't the Washington Monument, and it wasn't Mount Rushmore. It was Graceland — the home of the late Elvis Presley. It turns out that the prime minister is a huge fan of "The King."

While touring the house, Junichiro broke into some of Elvis' songs, donned a pair of Elvis' gold-rimmed sunglasses, and even busted a few of Elvis' famous moves. He left a happy man, thankful that the president gave him this opportunity to see Graceland, and he also probably left with a warm feeling towards America and Americans.

This got me thinking. Maybe this kind of diplomacy should be used more often. Let world leaders see both the silly and the awe-inspiring that make up America. There's bound to be some head of state who is just dying to see "Dollywood."

Maybe if we invite the world leaders we're having trouble with for a tour of some things that are charmingly, typically American, we can make more progress with them than by threatening them, freezing their assets, or bombing them.

Take the leaders of Iran and North Korea. Maybe they're too embarrassed to admit it, but isn't it possible that they've always wanted to go to Disneyland or Disney World. What would it hurt to invite them for a tour? I'm sure they'll feel very indebted to us if we unilaterally say they don't have to wait in the long lines. And, cynically speaking, if they remain belligerent after several hours at the park, just make them go through that "Small World" ride a few dozen times. After hearing "It's A Small World After All" sung over and over, their minds will be so fried they'll agree to anything we ask of them.

I think the president should take France's Chirac and other foreign leaders who view Americans as dangerous, arrogant, or simply unpleasant to Wrigley Field. Dignitaries will see democracy in action, as the wealthy sit next to the poor, all rooting for the hapless Cubs to win a game. Besides, how could anyone hate America after having a ballpark hotdog and an American beer?

For tough cases, I'd take foreign leaders to some of our natural wonders — the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, or Hawaii's surfing beaches. Show them that America is not just a country of big cities and traffic jams, and people rushing to make as much money as possible.

If those excursions don't break down their resistance, I'd go for the big weapon, and take them to the city of pure Americana, Las Vegas. Show them the ridiculous replicas of the Eiffel Tower and the New York skyline. Let them witness people screaming with delight when winning a $10 jackpot. And take them to see a shark reef in the middle of the desert. After seeing the sights of Vegas, they'll either be so enchanted or so appalled that they will no longer be able to hold onto their previous views of America. And of course, if they actually start to sit down at the tables and gamble, we'll have them hooked.

So, whether it's something like Pike's Peak, Sea World, or the Great Smokey Mountains, let's try this "Tourism and Amusement Park Diplomacy." Nobody ever declared war after going down a waterslide. Nobody ever called a foreign leader the "devil" after seeing a mountain sunset. And nobody ever hated an entire country after seeing a little girl with cotton candy all over her face.

Maybe this is a naïve, simplistic suggestion, but why not try it? What have we got to lose? It can't have any worse results than what we've been doing.



Lloyd Garver writes a weekly column for SportsLine.com. He has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.

By Lloyd Garver
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