Guy W. Farmer: The pomp and circumstance of POTUS
After suffering a “shellacking” (his word) in the mid-term elections, President Obama escaped Washington for a 10-day “jobs trip” (his words) to India and Southeast Asia. Based on personal experience, I’d describe his trip as a humongous boondoggle at taxpayer expense.
Presidential visits to exotic foreign lands require American embassies to drop everything in order to accommodate the hundreds of government officials, businessmen and media representatives who accompany the president of the United States (POTUS) on foreign trips.
You saw a mini-version of an official travel extravaganza last summer when first lady Michelle Obama visited the Spanish Riviera accompanied by scores of close friends and at least 50 Secret Service agents. I winced when I saw those 12- to 15-car motorcades winding their way through the narrow streets of small coastal towns. Of course the first lady’s entourage took over a luxurious five-star hotel for several days and those heavily armored vehicles were flown to Spain at taxpayer expense.
A former U.S. Information Agency (USIA) colleague, John Brown, recently wrote a hilarious but all-too-accurate description of President Obama’s trip to India and beyond.
“Probably not since the days of the Pharaohs … has a head of state traveled in such pomp and expensive grandeur,” Brown wrote. “While lesser mortals – the Pope, Queen Elizabeth and so on – are usually happy to let their hosts handle most of the security and transport arrangements … the U.S. creates a mini-America on the move to assure that nothing is left to chance.”
And so it is, as I learned when ex-President Jimmy Carter visited Madrid, Spain during his 1980 re-election campaign. As the American Embassy press attache’ my office was responsible for “handling” hordes of demanding media representatives and setting up an elaborate press center in a downtown luxury hotel. As Brown writes, the press center is there to keep the media “happy … in hopes of favorable U.S. media coverage for the White House,” which President Obama desperately needed in the wake of his recent election debacle.
In Madrid, we had a cross-cultural communication glitch when the Spaniards offered to put the Carters up at the Ritz, the city’s finest five-star hotel, but the humble visitors demurred. They wound up at the Ambassador’s Residence while the ambassador was exiled to the Ritz. Then the Carters wanted to have dinner with King Juan Carlos at 6 p.m., when he was finishing his lunch. And so on.
All of these impossible demands add up to what the late Sen. J. William Fulbright called “the arrogance of power,” which offends our foreign allies and partners. Enough already.
• Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, spent 28 years in the U.S. Foreign Service.