Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The Dream Palace, Holidays, Summit Snafu

Another beautiful day at El Jefe’s humble palace by the sea. El Jefe snoozed on the verandah, scenic overlook or whatever, newspaper forgotten by his side. The headlines read, in very large type: El Jefe Proclaimed World Poobah ! Bush, The Pope, Britney Spears Pledge Support. Behind him, at a respectful distance, a detachment of goombas from El Jefe’s elite personal security unit, the Wiseguys, hovered protectively; Marco, Rocco and Fredo menacingly eyeing all who came too near. The scantily-clad Traci Lords look-alike (object of admiring looks from the aforementioned goombas) was shaking El Jefe, saying “wake up, Jeffe baby, wake up !”
Alas, El Jefe is jolted awake, abruptly pulled back into the real world of working for a living and dealing with various relatives for Thanksgiving by the screech of the alarm. Yes the holidays are closing in, it seems. Can’t we just skip them ?
Turning to the real news, your host El Jefe is most disturbed by a pair of incidents in Chile which have roiled President Bush’s visit to Latin America. On Saturday, Chilean security personnel blocked the entry of President Bush’s security detachment during a photo opportunity at a cultural center. President Bush had to intervene and literally pull his bodyguard into the event.
The second incident was more serious. Chilean President Lagos cancelled a 200 person state dinner on Sunday at the official state residence, La Moneda, because the Chileans were unwilling to accept US security demands. The invited guests included the elite of Chilean society, including judges, members of the cabinet and Congress, and cultural figures. Among other things, the Chilean guests were all supposed to pass through American operated metal detectors, in the Chilean presidential palace.
This is not how to win friends and influence states. The incident with the bodyguard sounds like a garden variety snafu, but the fiasco of the state dinner is absolutely inexcusable. I wonder how American guests and officials would feel, having the White House and its security arrangements taken over by foreigners for a state dinner, however well intentioned they might be ?
State visits, and their accompanying dinners, are generally planned for months in advance. The details of all such events are supposed to be worked out, in detail, beforehand. Between them, the Executive Office of the President, the Secret Service, and the State Department should have been able to come to mutually acceptable security arrangements with the Chileans.
The larger problem is perhaps philosophical. The Secret Service, understandably, wants to ensure the welfare of the President and his family at any price. Consequently, it probably kept its precise plans to ensure that safety secret from the event planners until the last possible moment. However, the Secret Service is also supposed to, albeit somewhat indirectly, protect the national interests of the United States. When there is a conflict between absolute physical security for public officials, and US state interests, one would hope and expect that national interests would be paramount. If we want to ensure that the President is absolutely secure, and we want to leave foreigners and other less than trustworthy persons out of ensuring that security, then the President should not travel.
Now this whole incident sounds like insider baseball, and to an extent it is, but it has done real damage to the interests of the United States. Chile is about the best friend the US has in Latin America. Their government was glad to see our President, and wanted to work closely with him. And now we have just insulted their President, their ruling elite and their security establishment by treating them like doormats in their own house. Those kind of slights are not soon forgotten.

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