White House Invades India

*UPDATE – about the same time that this commentary was posted, the Washington Post reported White House spokesman Robert Gibbs stated that Indian news reports were in error on several facts, including the figure cited below of 34 warships (Obama’s India trip clouded by election results and misinformation on cost). Discussion in comments.

President Obama is going to India with some corporate leaders. And he’s bringing an armada with him.

The Press Trust of India reports that jets, helicopters, more than 40 vehicles, and 34 US Warships, including an aircraft carrier, will be in the hands of the president’s guard force (“34 warships sent from US for Obama visit,” November 4). Over 800 hotel rooms have been booked for the occasion. American security personnel will number in the hundreds and Indian forces will be certainly be involved as well.

From the state’s point of view Obama ought to have protection on his visit. He’s the commander in chief of the most powerful military on the planet and, perhaps more importantly, a high-profile symbol of state power. But is it really a good thing for any person to have this kind of status in the first place?

While business executives often take serious security measures, the president is one person who is too important to mix among the people. The president is not quite an emperor residing in the Forbidden City, but his surroundings of armed forces and sanitized environments further separate him from society, leaving him mainly the company of elites he does business with.

But the Obama Armada is also a projection of state power. Just as a teleconference would not enable the same involvement with foreign leaders as a physical visit, a more modest security arrangement would send a different signal than the forces actually used. The world must know that America is a nation at war, and while the country is going through hard times the armed wing of the government can still make its presence felt in a big way. The president’s security will not be left to foreigners.

Who foots the bill for this political overkill? The taxpayers of the US and India will of course pay for a celebrated gathering of elites who are supposed to make decisions for the rest of us. The government will protect the important people by taking from you. And maybe we little people can make up for the environmental impact of 34 warships by living in the dark and driving less.

And how are Americans protected? Isn’t Obama in charge of the military that keeps us safe? The problem here is that the government is made of people who naturally protect their own interests first, and this does not always match the interests of the public in general. For example, aggressive foreign policies or occupations help breed resentment that sometimes explodes as terrorist attacks against innocent civilians. But in order to secure a position of global political leadership (i.e. protect the global influence of successful political leaders), the occupations must continue and deals must be cut with oppressive regimes. Those making the decisions command armored vehicles and warships, and those who are ordered to live by the decisions are allowed to support whichever faction of the elite seems to have the most in common with them.

Obama’s celebrity visit to India brings political power, military power, economic power, and cultural power. While contests among the powerful may vary in their friendliness or hostility, a frequently overriding belief is that it is better to share power than to lose it. Naturally power relations must remain in place, and if we little people knew our place we wouldn’t complain about how the powerful secure their place.

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