Obama’s trip will now be a holiday of sorts
President Obama has now delayed his trip to Australia until June. My bet is that he will visit sometime after the 12th when his daughters finish school, but before the 25th when the G8 and G20 meet in Canada. You heard it here first.
President Obama is quickly developing a reputation as a bad guest in Asia.
Despite all the pronouncements that he is the first “Pacific President”, he hardly has much to show for it. In 2009, he visited Europe five times and Asia once.
Like his planned visit to Indonesia and Australia this week – his November trip to Singapore for APEC and sideline visits to Japan, China & South Korea – was cut short for domestic priorities.
In that instance, the Commander-in-Chief needed to attend the memorial service for the Fort Hood shootings and was caught in the middle of a Catch-22 dilemma: “dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t”.
So he chose to stay in the US a little longer, snubbing the leaders of twenty other Pacific-rim economies for the first day of their meetings. Despite asking Hillary Clinton to fill in for him, who had just left Singapore for the Philippines, some of the delegations were furious.
I was at APEC at the time and there were whispers one of the delegations had even angrily proclaimed: “How many people would need to be shot in my country for my leader to be able to miss APEC?”
Unfortunately probably hundreds.
But the APEC group were also caught in their own Catch 22-dilemma: reject the appointed representative of the leader of the most powerful member economy, or accept them at the risk of setting a dangerous precedent that it is okay for leaders to deputise their attendance.
The President’s planned trip this week was a little different though.
Without the need for attendance at “hard” meetings that involve multiple heads of government, the itinerary was effectively at his choosing and arguably symbolic at the official level.
The announcement that the trip was cancelled even failed to mention Australia, only citing Indonesia. Furthermore, the original release from the White House only vaguely stated the purpose of the Australian leg was to “discuss issues such as global economic recovery, clean energy and climate change, non-proliferation and Afghanistan”.
But the political and diplomatic landscape has shifted significantly since and it could have made for some quiet meetings.
The President is backing away from a carbon trading plan which Rudd passionately believes in, Australia has already hinted it won’t be sending more troops to Afghanistan, and has just approved the sale of uranium to Russia. There isn’t that much to talk about on health either evidently where we are literally oceans apart.
A cynical reading between the lines though would suggest the trip was designed as not much more than a family vacation for the Obamas to his childhood home in Indonesia. But also designed to satisfy another idiom: “to kill two birds with one stone”, by visiting an important ally in Australia along the way. He could hardly come all the way to Indonesia and not stop by in Australia.
And what better time than his daughters’ Spring Break from the private leafy Sidwell Friends School in Washington DC?
The fact the trip has now been put back to June, rather than say April or May once healthcare reform has passed and the President’s schedule is relatively quiet reinforces this: because on June 12th, Sidwell Friends School will break for their summer holiday.
But let’s not get too cynical, as any of us would love to roll the way the President does, vacation or not.
The irony is that tomorrow I am taking a break myself to the President’s favourite destination: Hawaii. A friend who was meant to join me can no longer make it after receiving an invitation to a Presidential function in Canberra, which is now obviously cancelled.
But when I go on holiday alone tomorrow I will be flying down the back of the plane on a redemption ticket. The first family get their very own jumbo jet that is designed to withstand a nuclear blast and travel with around 500 staff including at least 200 secret service agents.
Once I land I’ve already organised for a red Vespa scooter to get around on. But when the Obamas visit Australia they will get a $300,000 limousine nicknamed “The Beast” which is fitted with a night-vision camera, reinforced steel plating, tear-gas cannons and oxygen tanks with doors thicker than an aircraft’s. A bullet barely scratches it, and a rocket propelled grenade merely dents it.
The underlying reality is that the President had planned to cancel the holiday and all its arrangements for quite some time. It was clear as much as a fortnight ago that the political climate here in the United States would be too toxic towards his departure during the critical vote. Cutting it short was just a political move to break the fall when the eventual cancellation came.
But either way Rudd and Obama will get their hot date soon enough. So Rudd can stop worrying about which tie to wear and Abbott which shirt to try to iron.
The whispers are a longer itinerary will probably include Brisbane where advance teams were sighted weeks ago – remember, he is lamely now an “Honorary Queenslander” after Rudd designated him as such in their first joint press conference – and he probably wouldn’t want to skip Sydney either.
So at least it won’t be a one night stand when the time comes. Instead, it will be a holiday romance of sorts.
Thom Woodroofe, 20, is the Young Victorian of the Year and the founder of Left Right Think-Tank. He is the youngest member of the Australian American Leadership Dialogue currently living in the US.
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