Thursday, November 04, 2010

Is This Trip Really Necessary?

I'm all for taking every necessary step in protecting the President of the United States, but isn't there a point where the steps become so ridiculous that one must examine if it's really worth it?

New Delhi: The White House will, of course, stay in Washington but the heart of the famous building will move to India when President Barack Obama lands in Mumbai on Saturday.

Communications set-up, nuclear button, a fleet of limousines and majority of the White House staff will be in India accompanying the President on this three-day visit that will cover Mumbai and Delhi.

He will also be protected by a fleet of 34 warships, including an aircraft carrier, which will patrol the sea lanes off the Mumbai coast during his two-day stay there beginning Saturday. The measure has been taken as Mumbai attack in 2008 took place from the sea.

Arrangements have been put in place for emergency evacuation, if needed

Obama is expected to fly by a helicopter -- Marine One -- from the city airport to the Indian Navy's helibase INS Shikra at Colaba in south Mumbai.

From there, he will drive down in Lincoln Continental -- the Presidential limousine -- to the nearby the Taj Hotel.
Two jets, armed with advanced communication and security systems, and a fleet of over 40 cars will be part of Obamas convoy.
Around 800 rooms have been booked for the President and his entourage in Taj Hotel and Hyatt.
The President's "entourage" will consist of some 3,000 people, and the trip is expected to cost $200 million per day. I strongly suspect that the 34 warships are not included in this price tag. Do the math.

So, what does the United States hope to gain from this trip? Well, Reuters says "Obama India's visit may be more style than substance":
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A weakened U.S. President Barack Obama visits India this week to counter perceptions he has relegated the Asian power behind rivals China and Pakistan, but he may struggle to seal deals to help usher in billions of dollars of business.

Economic ties are booming but Obama's visit from Saturday to Monday may fail to live up to President Bill Clinton's 2000 trip that helped break the diplomatic ice, or President George W. Bush's visit in 2006 when a civil nuclear deal was hailed as a landmark in ties.

Obama's drubbing in the mid-term elections may also tie his political hands when it comes to bold policy moves on India as growing worries emerge that outsourcing in cities such as IT hub Bangalore is worsening mass unemployment in the United States.

It was a sign of the times that Obama told the Press Trust of India that India should open up its markets to U.S. companies, a stance that may dominate a 10-day trip of Asia aimed at boosting U.S. exports and jobs, crucial for his presidency's fate.

"Obama is going to be too preoccupied domestically, and you won't see a more aggressive foreign policy going forward," said Amitabh Mattoo, professor of international politics at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

"On his upcoming trip, I think that the best India can hope for is a consolidation of the relationship established under President Bush."
So,"ties are booming" and "outsourcing in cities such as IT hub Bangalore is worsening mass unemployment in the United States", and the trip is "aimed at boosting U.S. exports and jobs".

The average Indian exists on less than $2 per day which is exactly why U.S. companies are outsourcing jobs there. So, again, what is the upside to us? I still don't see it. Again from the Reuters piece:
A bilateral trade boom has seen total flows treble to $36.5 billion in goods in the decade to 2009-10, but the United States slipped from number one to three in India's trade partners. India lags China, the United States' third-biggest trading partner.

Washington faces a host of hurdles, including Indian worries that signing defense pacts -- which are necessary for the U.S. arms sales to go through -- may land New Delhi in a wider entanglement with the U.S. military.

The civil nuclear deal with the United States was signed to great fanfare, but it struggled through parliament and now the accord has sparked criticism that U.S. companies in the sector will be discouraged to invest due to high liabilities.

Obama has already played down ending a ban on U.S. exports of dual-use technology, telling the Press Trust of India it was "very difficult and complicated" to meet Indian expectations.

Obama may offer some support for India's place for a permanent seat on the U.N Security Council, but he will likely step short of a full endorsement.

"It will be the opportunity to consolidate all that we have built in the past decade," Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao was quoted as saying in the Indian Express. "We are not in a stage in our relationship for dramatic breakthroughs and big-bang."

For its part, India will be wary of perceptions it is putting its eggs into one U.S. basket despite Obama's personal ties with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Any sign of India's sovereignty being undermined can rally political opposition against Singh.

Singh leads a coalition of fickle regional allies and his Congress Party has had its roots in statist and non-alignment policies since independence in 1947, policy vestiges that still remain among some of its most powerful politicians.
After being thoroughly repudiated by the American people, President Obama heads to India, hat in hand, in an effort to restart the American economy with the assistance of an impoverished country which is clearly unwilling to give that assistance. Furthermore, even if they were, American companies are reluctant to invest, due to the unfavorable climate. A climate that is highly unlikely to change.

The sad part is that the India portion of the trip comprises only two days of a 10 day excursion of Asia. The rest of the trip will be spent in basket case hell holes that make India look like Japan.

Maybe, just maybe, President Obama's time (and our money) would be better spent in developing a coherent strategy, with the Republicans, for getting the American economic house in order. In two months, a reshaped Congress will be seated and there's every indication that they intend to hit the ground running; in the interim, the American people expect, and deserve, that those two months be spent planning for that eventuality.

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