In an early episode of the fictional hit TV drama The West Wing, the show’s President Jed Bartlett vents his fury at his Director of Intelligence. In the plot of this particular episode, the intelligence folks fail to pick up hundreds of thousands of Indian troops and their war machinery marching aggressively towards the Kashmiri Pakistani border in a clearly provocative move that will not bode well for the two nuclear armed neighbours.
In disbelief, Jed Bartlett angrily berates his intelligence chief by pointing out that his motorcade can’t move from K Street in the middle of DC to Connecticut without being picked up on a weather satellite. Aaron Sorkin and his production team obviously did their research well in coming up with a realistic depiction of the plot that is the challenging project of moving the most powerful man in the world from location A to location B.
Last night, London was treated to the real life rendition of this project when the US secret service pretty much commandeered central London to ensure that their boss had his “customary” no nonsense protection as he made his first long haul trip across the Atlantic.
The RAF Northolt airbase, the UK’s equivalent of Andrews in Maryland (which normally hosts dignitaries and royalty), clearly wasn’t up to the job of hosting this circus and Stansted got the honour of going out of business for a little while as it hosted Airforce 1.
The reality and sheer magnitude of the project of protecting President Obama and his wife is undoubtedly a more challenging proposition than the plot predicted in the TV series.
Nevertheless, it’s hard to fail to admire the determination of the circus mentality shown by the American establishment as they lap up the opportunity to show the world that they’re the best at what they do, especially when it comes to protecting the big fella from Pennsylvania Avenue.
To illustrate the sheer magnitude of this American circus, here are some facts about the project of Obama’s G20 trip:
- Obama is travelling with an estimated 500 to 600 personnel in his entourage. They won’t confirm the exact number as the mystery obviously adds to the spectacle of the circus.
- 200 of the folks travelling with him are secret service officers to cover the protection detail for him and his wife. One wonders how the rest of the entourage will be kept busy in Europe in the next 5 days.
- Apart from Airforce 1 and the second identical Boeing 747 that normally travels with the official plane as a decoy, Obama’s fully loaded Marine 1 helicopter is in town, together with the 2 or 3 equally loaded helicopters that fly together as decoys. The idea being no one really knows which plane he’s on. Clearly, they’ve been advised well on London traffic nightmares and he’s lucky he can afford using a helicopter around the capital to avoid the traffic.
- The beast is also in town to move him around where it’s not practical to use Marine 1. You can’t help but be fascinated with the sheer madness of this vehicle aptly named the beast. Apparently, apart from the out of this planet armoury that this limo has(most of which will make James Bond’s Aston Martin look like a rickshaw from a century ago), it’s also a moving hospital that carries oxygen as well as bottles of the president’s blood, not withstanding that there’s always a fully loaded ambulance in his motorcade.
- His 500 strong entourage also got to dodge the London traffic as they too have their fleet of American military Chinook helicopters to hop on to like the boss
Aside from the arrival circus witnessed by many well wishers waving the stripes and stars at Stansted airport, the most secure piece of real estate on the planet as of last night was Winfield House in Regents Park in central London. The private residence of the American Ambassador is sprawled over 12 acres and has the second largest private garden in London after Buckingham Palace. No problem there for the entourage to pitch up tents if they had to.
It’s a scene also reminiscent of an episode in the last season of the TV hit West Wing, where Matt Santos, the Latino presidential candidate causes a logistical nightmare when he decides to pop home for dinner and the secret service have to take over an entire suburban neighbourhood lock stock and barrel. Needless to say, the neighbours are least pleased as they pretty much have to provide their grandparent’s DNA profile (not literally – but you get the picture of course) to enter their homes, and Santos has to apologize about the circus to his wife Helen, who’s only comfort is the acknowledgement that at least they’re in the most secure neighbourhood in Texas if only for the night.
As a side note – it was interesting to note that the whole character of Matt Santos, the fictional Latino President in the TV hit The West Wing was inspired by the real life political story of Barrack Obama. Eli Adi and the West Wing writing team had the dilemma of not having a precedent to base a non-white presidential candidate on as part of the show’s plot. It was only after Obama’s stomp speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention in Boston in support of John Kerry, that the writers and producers homed in on the Obama inspiration for Santos’ character…..but clearly, I digress here….
So, is the circus in London going to be worth it?
We’ll see after the pomp and ceremony of the tea and reception with Aunt Liz and Uncle Phil at Buckingham Palace, and the Jamie Oliver dinner later in the evening being prepared for the heads of state at Downing Street (well, that’s if Jamie’s heavily pregnant wife doesn’t go into labour – otherwise it’s the local take away for the big fellas).
Incidentally, the spouses of the heads of state don’t get to eat with the big boys at the high table. They get relegated to the long grass of the back room dining areas with the consolation of a few celebs like JK Rawling, Dame Kelly Holmes and Naomi Campbell thrown in for a spectacle. Funny, if I was cynical, I would suggest that the inclusion of black celebs in the dinner for the first ladies is an obvious stunt to make Michelle feel less awkward (would they do that….Nooooo!). Barrack doesn’t have an identity problem and doesn’t need props seeing that he’s the X Factor that is calling the shots – it comes with being the most powerful man in the world. The folks out back are still figuring out how to handle Michelle, but yet again, I digress.
To the more serious matter of the jaunt at the Excel Centre on Thursday where the hopes of the world’s economic future is pinned on a 4 and a half hour G20 meeting. Will they achieve anything of substance? Absolutely not! As they’ll say, it’s a step in the right direction and we’re focused on stimulating the economy, in regulation and in making the IMF almighty and all powerful so that they can screw up developing countries even more.
Brazilian President Lula daSilva will still go back home blaming the blue eyed white folk for having fixed nothing after their breath taking and spectacular incompetence in screwing up the world’s economy, the Metropolitan Police and British Security Services will have spent £20 million in the security operation of the decade (it will be a good dry run for the 2012 Olympics though – but an expensive dry run all the same), and the biggest spectacle will be the numerous battles with the street protestors of different persuasion – from fair trade consuming, tree hugging, environmental mercenaries, to those convinced that this is the perfect opportunity to kill capitalism, to folks just pissed off that they don’t have jobs.
My personal opinion is that if any of these leaders had any vision of changing life permanently for generations to come, they’d actually kick this talk of fixing the world economy in 4 hours into the long grass and be bold enough to conclude the Doha round of world trade talks that would ensure free trade without protectionism and ridiculous tariffs that hit the poorest countries in the world.
All signatures needed for this will be in the room – the question is that of whether they’ll have the balls to do it and fix, as Lula daSilva says, the mess caused by greedy blue eyed white folk.