The Secret Service and the Imperial Presidency

If God created war so as to teach Americans geography, then perhaps He created scandal so as to teach us about bureaucracy. The Secret Service scandal, with its irresistible sex-sells appeal to the media, guarantees that an aspect of Big Government that has heretofore remained invisible to the public will get plenty of scrutiny. To wit: the gigantic expense of the presidential entourage as it travels at home and overseas.  Excess is built upon excess, with Uncle Sam spending without limit. Compared to the way other heads of state travel, our president is in a different category altogether.

Mark Steyn, with his characteristic mocking wit, tackles the Cartagena follies in light of his own brushes with presidential entourages, making the reader both laugh and think about the media obsession du jour:

...sometimes it helps to step back and consider the bigger picture. Why were 21 officials of the United States government able to enjoy a night of pleasure with 21 prostitutes, whether "foreign nationals" or all-American? The answer isn't difficult. Indeed, one retired agent spelled it out: "They just didn't have anything to do."

So they did Dania Suarez and her friends instead.

The 21 dedicated public servants jetted in on the so-called car-planes, the big transports flying in the tinted-windowed black Suburbans for the presidential motorcade. The "car-plane" guys show up a few days in advance, but usually two weeks or so after the really advanced advance team has hit the ground. And there was nothing for them to do. There is no reason for them to be there.

So instead they went to the Pleyclub.

There is an iron law of bureaucracy: a bureaucracy will expand to consume the resources available to it. The mission of the Secret Service presidential protection unit is so critical, and the pocketbook so open, that bureaucratic metastasis is almost guaranteed. Nobody wants to be the person responsible for refusing to spend the money which could have protected the president, should an assassination attempt succeed. When in doubt, add personnel, take any measure regardless of the expense, if it closes a potential vulnerability.

 Decades ago, I got know socially a US diplomat overseas who handled local arrangements for a brief presidential visit to one of the most expensive cities in the world. He regaled me with incredible stories of the extent and expense of preparations. Two C-5A's flew in limos and Suburbans, an entire floor of the most expensive hotel in town was taken over for weeks, and he was left with the unenviable task of riding herd on hotels, logistics, liaison with local authorities. I was aghast at the sums being spent with a bottomless budget, it appeared.

If it was bad then, it is worse now, and Obama is going to bear some of the political consequences, even though the problem is longstanding, and at some level intractable in nature. The reason is that Obama has done more travel for political reasons than his predecessors -- his schedule of fundraising travel far exceed Bush's record -- and he and Michelle have a track record of frequent luxury tourism on the taxpayers' dime. They already have an image of wasteful excess in the travel department.

The Secret Service organization and practices are going to come under scrutiny as responsibility is assessed and civil and criminal investigations proceed.  American taxpayers deserve to see the entire extent of our security and diplomatic presence which travels with the president. There are hints that in addition to the Secret Service and military personnel, other members of the presidential entourage may have tasted of the pleasures of Cartagena's sex trade. If it is a security breach to bring a prostitute back to one's room, then the public deserves to know the entire list of buyers in the world's oldest trade on that mission. Certainly everyone with a security clearance.

I suspect the American people are sick and tired of paying for an imperial presidency. Steyn again:

 Just last month, it cost U.S. taxpayers half a million bucks to fly Obama and David Cameron to Dayton, Ohio, to pretend to enjoy a basketball game. I've attended previous "Summits of the Americas" and G7 meetings and other international confabs, and always heard the same story wearily retailed by representatives of the host nation - that the money-no-object Yanks are flying in a bigger and more disruptive presidential entourage than everybody else put together. At this point, the local official usually rolls his eyes, and mostly, but not always, leaves the thought unspoken:

"Americans! What do you expect?" The Queen routinely turns down requests from visiting U.S. presidents to reinforce the garden walls and replace the windows of Buckingham Palace - for an overnight stay. When the U.S. was the richest country on earth, the mad excess used to impress in a crude kind of way: If you've got it, flaunt it. Now it's the Brokest Nation in History: America hasn't got it, but still flaunts it. Which is kind of pathetic.

If God created war so as to teach Americans geography, then perhaps He created scandal so as to teach us about bureaucracy. The Secret Service scandal, with its irresistible sex-sells appeal to the media, guarantees that an aspect of Big Government that has heretofore remained invisible to the public will get plenty of scrutiny. To wit: the gigantic expense of the presidential entourage as it travels at home and overseas.  Excess is built upon excess, with Uncle Sam spending without limit. Compared to the way other heads of state travel, our president is in a different category altogether.

Mark Steyn, with his characteristic mocking wit, tackles the Cartagena follies in light of his own brushes with presidential entourages, making the reader both laugh and think about the media obsession du jour:

...sometimes it helps to step back and consider the bigger picture. Why were 21 officials of the United States government able to enjoy a night of pleasure with 21 prostitutes, whether "foreign nationals" or all-American? The answer isn't difficult. Indeed, one retired agent spelled it out: "They just didn't have anything to do."

So they did Dania Suarez and her friends instead.

The 21 dedicated public servants jetted in on the so-called car-planes, the big transports flying in the tinted-windowed black Suburbans for the presidential motorcade. The "car-plane" guys show up a few days in advance, but usually two weeks or so after the really advanced advance team has hit the ground. And there was nothing for them to do. There is no reason for them to be there.

So instead they went to the Pleyclub.

There is an iron law of bureaucracy: a bureaucracy will expand to consume the resources available to it. The mission of the Secret Service presidential protection unit is so critical, and the pocketbook so open, that bureaucratic metastasis is almost guaranteed. Nobody wants to be the person responsible for refusing to spend the money which could have protected the president, should an assassination attempt succeed. When in doubt, add personnel, take any measure regardless of the expense, if it closes a potential vulnerability.

 Decades ago, I got know socially a US diplomat overseas who handled local arrangements for a brief presidential visit to one of the most expensive cities in the world. He regaled me with incredible stories of the extent and expense of preparations. Two C-5A's flew in limos and Suburbans, an entire floor of the most expensive hotel in town was taken over for weeks, and he was left with the unenviable task of riding herd on hotels, logistics, liaison with local authorities. I was aghast at the sums being spent with a bottomless budget, it appeared.

If it was bad then, it is worse now, and Obama is going to bear some of the political consequences, even though the problem is longstanding, and at some level intractable in nature. The reason is that Obama has done more travel for political reasons than his predecessors -- his schedule of fundraising travel far exceed Bush's record -- and he and Michelle have a track record of frequent luxury tourism on the taxpayers' dime. They already have an image of wasteful excess in the travel department.

The Secret Service organization and practices are going to come under scrutiny as responsibility is assessed and civil and criminal investigations proceed.  American taxpayers deserve to see the entire extent of our security and diplomatic presence which travels with the president. There are hints that in addition to the Secret Service and military personnel, other members of the presidential entourage may have tasted of the pleasures of Cartagena's sex trade. If it is a security breach to bring a prostitute back to one's room, then the public deserves to know the entire list of buyers in the world's oldest trade on that mission. Certainly everyone with a security clearance.

I suspect the American people are sick and tired of paying for an imperial presidency. Steyn again:

 Just last month, it cost U.S. taxpayers half a million bucks to fly Obama and David Cameron to Dayton, Ohio, to pretend to enjoy a basketball game. I've attended previous "Summits of the Americas" and G7 meetings and other international confabs, and always heard the same story wearily retailed by representatives of the host nation - that the money-no-object Yanks are flying in a bigger and more disruptive presidential entourage than everybody else put together. At this point, the local official usually rolls his eyes, and mostly, but not always, leaves the thought unspoken:

"Americans! What do you expect?" The Queen routinely turns down requests from visiting U.S. presidents to reinforce the garden walls and replace the windows of Buckingham Palace - for an overnight stay. When the U.S. was the richest country on earth, the mad excess used to impress in a crude kind of way: If you've got it, flaunt it. Now it's the Brokest Nation in History: America hasn't got it, but still flaunts it. Which is kind of pathetic.

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