A distinguished columnist, editor and foreign correspondent, Wes Pruden has been a leading voice of conservative thought for more than three decades.
A coconut-free respite for President Obama
President Obama can't wait to get out of Dodge, and who can blame him? He's off Friday for a long trip through Asia, landing first in India, and if he puts everything on his credit card, he'll have enough frequent-flier miles to go anywhere for years after he leaves the White House.
He'll feel right at home in India. He hasn't had an opportunity to blow other people's money with abandon like this since he sent billions to General Motors and Chrysler. He could buy a round of champagne for everybody in India (minus the Muslims, of course, who could order orange blossoms without the vodka) with his spare millions.
Indian newspapers say the president and his party of 3,000 will spend $200 million a day in India alone (tips extra), including for things like stripping the coconuts from coconut palms in the president's path so he won't get a nasty bump on the head from a falling coconut. The White House says the estimates are nonsense, without mentioning either coconuts or specifics. An official of the Indian government working on the arrangements for the president's visit may be the source of the estimate. "A huge amount of around $200 million would be spent on security, [hotels] and other aspects of the presidential visit," he says. Everybody can agree the trip will cost a bundle, not all of it the president's fault, but he's taking along a lot of freeloaders.
The president is stopping first in Mumbai, as the Indians now call Bombay. (If you say Mumbai really fast it sounds a little like Bombay.) The Indian government is nervous because Mumbai was the scene of considerable death and destruction in the name of Allah in November 2008. The Secret Service is nervous, too, because that's what the Secret Service is paid to be (which is why it confiscated Pennsylvania Avenue for a parking lot in front of the White House).
Indian newspapers and television networks reflect both bemusement and affront, bemused at the prospect of such an overwhelming show of force merely to accompany a president for two days in town. Thirty-four U.S. warships will patrol the sea off Mumbai, whence the jihadists came in 2008. Mr. Obama will be in a protective bubble of Secret Service bodyguards and Indian paramilitary forces. He may think his mushy sentiments about Islam, dispensed in earlier trips abroad, will protect him, but his hosts clearly are not fans of a strategy of soft words to turn away wrath. Thirteen heavy-lift airplanes with state-of-the-art high-tech gizmos, three heavily armed helicopters and 500 U.S. security officers have been in India for a week, getting ready for whatever happens. All tall buildings around the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai, scene of the 2008 carnage, and the Sheraton Maurya Hotel in New Delhi, where the presidential party will stay, have been "sanitized." This does not necessarily mean everyone in the tall buildings has been "sanitized." Not yet. Anyone approaching the hotels risks decapitation, with really severe punishment if he tries it twice.
The president might think twice Monday before he visits the monumental memorial to Mahatma Gandhi, where the curators insist that he must be treated like everyone else. This means no Secret Service sniffer dogs to search for explosives. The dogs preceded George W. Bush on his visit to the temple of Gandhi in 2006 and set off an enormous row. Dogs are mostly for eating in Asia, and the presence of the sniffer dogs upset tender Muslim sensibilities. Though to be treated "like everyone else," the president will get to enter through a VIP gate, and once inside, will be seated in a chair on a green carpet and receive a bust of Gandhi and a scroll inscribed with Gandhi's "seven social sins," among them "politics without principle." It's not clear what the president will give in return, perhaps a DVD of great movies of Hollywood, if the protocol office can find one like the set of DVDs he gave British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Indian-American relations are much improved now, but many Indians are still eager to take offense, real and imagined. Gandhi's grandson, probably a cat person, still isn't over the sniffer dogs at his grandfather's memorial. "I know security is a concern and it has changed the way we live," says Tushar Gandhi, "but would they have allowed sniffer dogs at the Lincoln Memorial or the Washington Monument before our president and prime minister visit?" Actually, yes. We allow Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert at the Lincoln Memorial, so why not dogs?
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History loves irony, as Prof. Gingrich could (and no doubt will) tell us. Two men renowned for their deeds die more or less on the same day on opposite sides of the world. The bad guy gets the big headline, the good guy makes the front page one last time as a footnote to the times.
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