American Elephants

President Barack Obama Visits Brussels by The Elephant's Child

The imperial presidency at work. The president is off to Brussels with a 900-strong entourage, including 45 vehicles and three planes, to attend the EU and NATO summits.The visit will cost Belgium more than €10 million, to cover his 24 hours in the country.

The president will arrive on Tuesday night with a 900-strong entourage, including 45 vehicles and three cargo planes. Advance security teams orchestrating every last detail have combed Brussels already, checking the sewers and the major hospitals, while American military helicopters were last week given the green light for overflights. The city hosts at least four EU summits a year, with each of these gatherings costing €500,000 in extra police, military and transport expenses. “But this time round, you can multiply that figure by 20,” said Brussels mayor, Yvan Mayeur.

Belgium itself is mobilizing 350 police and military on motorbikes to secure the president’s routes to EU and NATO summits on Wednesday, while a convoy of nine US helicopters will take Obama to an American first world war cemetery.

Brigette Grouwels, who heads the city’s transport policy, said locals should just take the occasion to walk, cycle and take public transport, and experience first hand a city unencumbered by cars.

I want our president to be safe on foreign visits, but this is getting ridiculous. Every time he takes a trip, we hear more about the disruption his grandiose entourage causes, and the expense, than about anything accomplished by the trip.

Imposing a €2 million cost on Belgium for a 24 hour visit seems both excessive and unnecessary. But an entourage of 900? Besides drivers for the 45 vehicles and pilots and crew for the three planes, who are those 900 people? What bothers me is that the Obamas seem unaware of the problems they cause, and simply feel it is their due.

Michelle’s presidential suite in Beijing runs $8,350 a night. I don’t know what kind of entourage she has. But it makes a nice Spring Break for the kids.


4 Comments so far
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How quickly one seems to forget the Imperial Bush presidency and his entourage of 700 for a brief visit to the UK more than 10 years ago:

Conclusion: the Imperial Presidency did not begin with Obama.


Comment by Subsidy Eye

I don’t believe that I said it did. The thing is that GWB was very much aware of his entourage and the problems it caused. He made an effort to disrupt as little as possible, and tried to avoid really screwing up traffic. I assume that the vast entourage is ordered up partly by the Secret Service, and they have a medical staff, and who knows what else, and they are attempting to protect from any eventuality, but the entourage (what else cold you call it?) just keeps growing and growing. The Obamas do seem not only unaware of the problems caused, but indifferent.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

Apologies for inferring that you were singling out Obama as “imperial”. I have no special insights into what each President was or is thinking about the disruption they cause as a result of their visits, but a contemporary account of Bush’s 2003 visit to the UK suggests it was pretty heavy-handed, asking for diplomatic immunity for its armed special agents and snipers, closing down tube stations, cordoning off streets …

And I imagine that decisions affecting traffic also depend on the host country. As explained in the article, the procedures to minimize traffic disruption were suggested by the British: “the usual practice in Britain is to use police outriders to close roads as the cavalcade passes to cause minimal disruption to traffic.”


Comment by Subsidy Eye

But I’ll make you happy, Subsidy, and go ahead and single out the Obama Presidency as being “imperial”. So you got your contemporary account from the Guardian? A liberal newspaper that was known to dislike Bush? Okay, here’s some news for you: “diplomatic immunity for its armed special agents” is pro forma… the request is made every time the President (and VP and any other Cabinet level member of the Executive, as well as official delegations from other branches of the government). It is intended to allow the armed security to remain, well, armed. And yes, decisions affecting traffic DO depend on the host country… so do decisions like closing tube stations and cordoning off streets.

On the particular visit that you’re talking about, the majority of the 640 (not 700) remained at the airbase. The excessive numbers involved had to do with concerns that were still in effect because of 9/11 (less than two years before). The decision for the extra security personnel WAS NOT BUSH’s. He would have preferred not to have so many, and he told the Marine liaison in charge on that trip so (a very good friend of mine, as it happens). You will notice also that for the remainder of the Bush presidency, the entourage was kept to a minimum whenever possible by Executive order.

On the other hand, Obama has seemed to want to show the world how many people travel with him as much as possible. Even when it is pointed out how such appearances may not look good, Obama doesn’t seem to care (remember a C-130 being tasked to carry the Obama family dog to Martha’s Vineyard a couple years ago? I don’t recall Bush doing anything like that. I don’t even recall Clinton doing anything similar, and there was someone who treated the presidential perks as an entitlement).

For a short visit to a friendly country, 900 is a little excessive.


Comment by Lon Mead

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