What are the Obamas Doing in Africa?
President Barack Obama's trip to Africa has largely been ignored by the U.S. media, and for good reason: it seems to have no real purpose.
While attention to Africa is long overdue, the president is announcing no new strategy, concluding no significant agreements--merely announcing a new investment in African power generation, which African companies are arguably capable of funding and carrying out themselves.
Much of his trip to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania consists of sightseeing with his family--and an entourage of 1,000, at a cost to taxpayers of $60 to $100 million.
Consider the reason Obama gave reporters about why he is visiting Cape Town on Sunday:
His schedule on Sunday begins with a flight to Cape Town and then a helicopter ride to the museum on Robben Island.
Obama visited when he was a senator but this time is bringing his family. He said he's eager to teach them about Mandela's role in overcoming white racist rule, first as an activist and later as a president who forged a unity government with his former captors.
He told reporters on Saturday he wants to "help them to understand not only how those lessons apply to their own lives but also to their responsibilities in the future as citizens of the world, that's a great privilege and a great honour".
So a significant part of the trip is devoted to the education of Obama's own family. Could such a trip not have waited until after his term in office, or been taken at the Obamas' own expense, without the trade delegations, diplomats, advance teams and valets--to say nothing of the cost to local law enforcement in South Africa?
The only newsworthy aspect of Obama's visit to the Rainbow Nation has been the revelation that the new U.S. ambassador to South Africa will be White House Political Director Patrick Gaspard--a long-time left-wing activist notable for having served on the board of the Working Families Party, a far-left organization connected with ACORN. The cronyist appointment captures Obama's continued fealty to the left--and to the low priority the Obama administration will continue to assign to sub-saharan Africa, even after the president's lavish visit.
Otherwise, the highlight of Obama's trip has been a memorable clash with the President of Senegal over the issue of gay marriage. He was unable to visit former President Nelson Mandela in hospital, so he had to make do with meeting Mandela's somewhat problematic family. Meeting with current South African President Jacob Zuma, no friend of a free press, Obama had the temerity to scold American journalists trying to ask questions: "Behave," he told them.
As he has done on foreign visits elsewhere, he spoke to students, reassuring them that the U.S. does not want to expand its military presence around the world, just two short years after U.S. forces helped remove Muammar Gaddafi from power in Libya. Otherwise, his visit has been more noteworthy for the protests and controversy it generated than for anything it accomplished.
Before leaving Africa, Obama will visit Tanzania, where First Lady Michelle Obama and former First Lady Laura Bush will participate in the African First Ladies Summit. Neither is an African First Lady, but Mrs. Bush, at least, has undertaken the trip on her own. Overall, the Obamas' itinerary in Africa is one that smacks of self-indulgence--something to which some of the African First Ladies can, no doubt, relate quite well.
The trip is also a way to avoid the real responsibilities of office. On the way to Africa, President Obama tried to dismiss concerns that the U.S. had not yet convinced other nations to hand over fugitive Edward Snowden, whose leaks about the NSA and its Prism program triggered an international scandal and national security crisis. While Obama described the controversy as a "made-for-TV movie," intelligence officials worried that the damage of Snowden's alleged espionage is compounded every day that he remains on the run overseas.
Perhaps the U.S. media is largely ignoring Obama's trip because reporting what he is actually doing--waxing poetic about his early political life, shuttling his family around by helicopter, greeting adoring crowds (and dodging angry protests)--would be a great embarrassment. It would reveal, as Ed Klein noted, that Obama has little interest in governing but "clings to the narcissistic life of the presidency"--at a time of political and economic turmoil, when leadership is sorely lacking.
One hopes, at least, that the expensive memories will last.