Criticized Or Applauded, Presidential Travel Is One Great Job Perk

presidential travel
ep_jhu/Flickr

This week, President Obama and family fly to Africa for what has been described as both “frivolous spending” and a trip that brings “a great bang for our buck.” The estimated $60 – $100 million trip comes at a time when Americans face a decidedly different flying experience caused by government furloughs and cutbacks. Approve or not, presidential travel and moving the first family around the world is in no way inexpensive.

Traveling to sub-Sahara Africa from June 26 to July 3, the Obamas will be accompanied by hundreds of Secret Service agents and staff, adding to the cost of transportation and accommodations. Still, this is the leader of the free world and protecting him, his family and staff is not going to be a cheap road trip no matter how they do it. When President Clinton visited Africa the price tag was said to be $42.7 million plus the cost of Secret Service protection.

As the trip to South Africa, Senegal and Tanzania gets underway, a reported 56 vehicles ranging from limousines to trucks full of supplies will be flown in via military cargo planes. When the Obamas are on the ground in Africa, U.S. fighter jets will be ever-present in the airspace directly above them. That’s in addition to the cost of operating the President’s ride, Air Force One, estimated to be slightly less than $200,000 per hour.
“It is no secret that we need to rein in government spending, and the Obama administration has regularly and repeatedly shown a lack of judgment for when and where to make cuts. The American people have had enough of the frivolous and careless spending,” Rep. George Holding (R-N.C.) said in a RT.com article.

But the cost could have been higher. The Obama’s original plan called for a Tanzania safari, which would have required a team of sharpshooters to protect them from wild animals. But President Obama, the first sitting president to visit Cambodia and Myanmar, is visiting African countries that reportedly need attention.

“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,” Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told The Hill, reports RT.com.

Still, let’s keep these numbers in perspective. The expense of flowers for the White House alone run up a tab estimated to be $252,000 per year. The Presidential limousine is a $300,000 Cadillac that is clad with 5 inches of armor, has its own oxygen supply, a blood bank of the president’s type and can shoot tear gas and smoke grenades.

10 Interesting Facts About Air Force One

Other Countries A US President Has Never Visited

President

President Barack Obama will land in Myanmar (aka Burma) this week, a first-time visit for any President of the United States. Never mind that Myanmar is best known as a brutal dictatorship, not exactly in line with U.S. foreign policy. Disregard any political or geographically strategic reasons for befriending Myanmar. Today, this is all about the President being the first to visit Myanmar and the trip begs the question: “So are there other countries that no sitting U.S. President has ever visited?”

Out of the 190+ countries in the world, just 113 of them have been visited by a President of the United States, according to the U.S. Department of State’s Office of the Historian.

Countries not visited include close-by neighbor the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, St Kitts, St Lucia and assorted tiny island-nations. Understandable, we would probably view a visit to the harmless Seychelles as a taxpayer-paid vacation anyway.

On the continent of Africa, more nations have not been visited than have been by a U.S. President. Again, probably not a lot of strategic reasons to stop by.But some big-name countries we might think that some President, somewhere along the way, might have visited; not one has.

  • Monaco, the second smallest country/monarchy in the world and the most densely populated country in the world boasts the world-famous Monte Carlo Casino.
  • Algeria, in northern Africa, famous for its vast Sahara in the south..
  • Nepal- famous for eight of the world’s ten tallest mountains. No visit.

Armenia is a country one might think worthy of a trip by any standards. Bordered by Turkey to the west, Azerbaijan to the east, Georgia to the north and Iran to the south, Armenia does seem to have a strategic location. Still, no visit.

Presidential travel takes any given sitting head of the free world to countries all over the planet on visits of good will. Meeting face to face with world leaders, attending meetings and spreading good old American spirit around when they can, Presidents are a big ticket when they come to town, along with Air Force One and more as we see in this video


Oh, and that trip to Myanmar? While President Obama is the first U.S. President to visit, he’s not the first Obama. The president’s grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, was a cook in World War II for a British army captain stationed in what was then called Burma.

[Photo Credit: Flickr user 0ystercatcher]

Where have U.S. presidents traveled and a personal sighting

The latest Concierge.com has an interesting slide show accompanied by text that covers various travel habits and destinations of American presidents through history. For example, Abraham Lincoln never left the United States, and Teddy Roosevelt is the first president to have traveled overseas while in office. Air travel had nothing to do with the amount, it seems. For example, check out Thomas Jefferson. He was an international traveling man for sure.

Browsing through the slides and texts is a bit of a history lesson, along with a glance at how presidents are tourists like the rest of us–except for the Secret Service. If you’ve ever seen a U.S. president in person, you’ve noticed the folks in suits.

The folks in suits is what tipped me of that I was about to get a presidential sighting when I was in Poland years ago. The first Bush–George Herbert Walker was in Warsaw at the same time. I was initially tipped off to some important happening by the American flags festooning the light posts of the street where we happened to be walking.

“Look at all those flags,” we said. “What’s that about?” The large parked cars with American diplomat license plates were another clue. “Hmmm, that’s interesting.”

“Isn’t President Bush on a world tour?” someone in my group asked. The dark suited men carrying walkie talkies and wearing sunglasses cinched it. We’d hang out with the rest of the commoners to see what came next.

Regardless of ones politics, there is something exciting about the hoopla that surrounds a presidential visit, particularly if you happen to be at a place where you didn’t expect a sighting. We might have been heading off for a bite to eat or to a museum. I can’t remember. As the years pass, the experience I remember most about the visit to Warsaw was that slice of time.

Before the motorcade approached, minutes after we stopped, the energy in the air crackled. People in the crowd craned their necks and stood on tip-toes, stretching for a glimpse. As the car road by and turned into the fortress of some official goverment type building, there was a flurry of waves and shouts in Polish.

My view of President George Bush, the elder, version and his wife Barbara was from a distance, but I could see both of them waving through the car window’s glass for a few seconds before they disappeared behind a gate and we continued on to wherever we were heading.

The photo is of President Dwight Eisenhower’s motorcade in Kabul. [Flickr/ Library of Congress via pingnews.]