Commentary Magazine


“Imperial Presidency,” Huh?

It’s fun to tally up the pieces of the convoy President Obama will bring with him to India on Saturday. But there is, of course, nothing wrong with the president traveling abroad in this fashion. Here’s one report on the preparations:

Communications set-up and nuclear button and majority of the White House staff will be in India accompanying the President on this three-day visit that will cover Mumbai and Delhi.

He will also be protected by a fleet of 34 warships, including an aircraft carrier, which will patrol the sea lanes off the Mumbai coast during his two-day stay there beginning Saturday. The measure has been taken as Mumbai attack in 2008 took place from the sea. …

Two jets, armed with advanced communication and security systems, and a fleet of over 40 cars will be part of Obama’s convoy.

Around 800 rooms have been booked for the President and his entourage in Taj Hotel and Hyatt.

The President will have a security ring of American elite Secret Service, which are tasked to guard the President, along with National Security Guards (NSG) and personnel from central paramilitary forces and local police in Mumbai and Delhi.

If the president were not well protected when visiting a city struck by armed terrorists two years earlier, we’d first have something to complain about.  Yet, reading this account put me in mind of someone who has warned against such a robust American demonstration of security abroad. In his 2008 book, The Post-American World, one of Obama’s biggest fans, Fareed Zakaria, complained about George W. Bush’s overseas visits. “President Bush’s foreign trips seem designed to require as little contact as possible with the countries he visits,” Zakaria wrote. “He is usually accompanied by two thousand or so Americans, as well as several airplanes, helicopters, and cars.” Lamenting the “Imperial Presidency,” Zakaria approvingly quoted former European minister for external affairs Chris Patten:

Attending any conference abroad, American cabinet officers arrive with the sort of entourage that would have done Darius proud. Hotels are commandeered; cities brought to a halt; innocent bystanders are barged into corners by thick-necked men with bits of plastic hanging out of their ears. It is not a spectacle that wins hearts and minds.

“Apart from the resentment that the imperial style produces, the aloof attitude means that American officials don’t benefit from the experience and expertise of foreigner,” Zakaria commented. I await his scathing condemnation of Obama’s gross escalation of an already arrogant and self-defeating practice. And in Zakaria’s hometown, no less.

Man, when Bush was president, you could write a book about anything.

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