$100 Million to Improve Trade With...Senegal?
I'm sure Senegal is a lovely country. So, too, South Africa and Tanzania. I'm sure the people are the salt of the earth and the governments will be friendly and will treat our president very nicely.
But, c'mon. Do we really have to spend 10 times more than the White House spent on President Obama's Israel trip so that he can be greeted by adoring crowds in Africa?
"First of all we don't have the exact figure of costs. Frankly we don't form or control those numbers," Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said in a conference call with reporters previewing the trip. "The security requirements which make up the bulk of the costs are determined by Secret Service and they don't publicly release breakdowns of the costs of the trips but again, this is something that is determined not by White House planning."
Discussion focused on the cost of Obama's trip to South Africa, Senegal, and Tanzania after The Washington Post reported that the trip would cost $100 million.
Rhodes stressed the Secret Service, and not the White House, determines the security precautions necessary for presidential travel.
"And, as The Washington Post story indicated, that's been the case for no matter who's president," Rhodes said. "The costs for these types of trips as well as any president trips are based on those determinations."
Obama's trip will also require moving almost 60 vehicles, dozens of Secret Service agents and military planes to Africa, the Post also reported.
A week earlier, Rhodes also defended the price of the trip.
"Frankly, there will be a great bang for our buck for being in Africa, because when you travel to regions like Africa that don't get a lot of presidential attention, you can have very long-standing and long-running impact from the visit," Rhodes said.
No one is denying the good that comes from a visit by the president of the United States to small, unimportant countries that few Americans have ever heard of, and fewer know much about. It's not an insult to those countries to call them "unimportant." Nobody hangs on their every word at the UN, nor do pronouncements from their government make headlines anywhere but in their own countries. And while there's no doubt that South Africa is an important regional country, Tanzania and Senegal are much less so.
Is it worth $100 million to impress those countries with the majesty and weight of a visit by a US president?
Even more basic a question; if the Secret Service feels it needs a small army to protect the president, doesn't that in and of itself argue against Obama making the trip in the first place? If it's that dangerous, why take a chance?
Despite Rhodes' claim of getting a lot of "bang for our buck," the return on this huge investment of taxpayer dollars will be niggardly. How many people in Tanzania or Senegal can afford anything that the US manufactures? This, about Senegal, is from the CIA World Factbook:
The economy continues to suffer from unreliable power supply, which has led to public protests and high unemployment and has prompted migrants to flee Senegal in search of better job opportunities in Europe.
And how about this from the same source on Tanzania:
Tanzania is one of the world''s poorest economies in terms of per capita income, however, it has achieved high overall growth rates based on gold production and tourism. Tanzania has largely completed its transition to a liberalized market economy, though the government retains a presence in sectors such as telecommunications, banking, energy, and mining. The economy depends on agriculture, which accounts for more than one-quarter of GDP, provides 85% of exports, and employs about 80% of the work force.
It doesn't sound like either of those countries is going to be importing much of anything from the US anytime soon.
The only "bang" we're getting for our buck is this exploding cigar of a junket being taken by Obama and his family.