Delusions of grandeur by world leaders

Take a look at what the Saudi Arabian king took along with him when he made a trip to Indonesia.

According to reports in the Indonesian press, the Saudi royal is expected to bring 459 metric tons (506 U.S. tons) of cargo with him on his trip — including two Mercedes-Benz S600 limousines and two electric elevators.

Adji Gunawan of the airfreight company PT Jasa Angkasa Semesta (JAS) told the Antara news agency that his company was appointed to handle the cargo, which has already arrived in the country. Adji said his company was employing a total of 572 workers to deal with the Saudi king’s luggage.

The Jakarta Post reported that the Saudi group will total about 1,500 people, including 10 ministers, 25 princes and at least 100 security personnel.

But the US is also disgraceful in the baggage that accompanies the president.

When President Barack Obama visited sub-Saharan Africa in 2013, he was accompanied by 56 support vehicles, including 14 limousines, and hundreds of U.S. Secret Service agents tasked with helping secure locations in Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania.

Even when Obama traveled to less exotic locales, there were reports of a similarly high level of organization: A 2014 visit to Brussels included a 900-person entourage and 45 vehicles, according to the Guardian. Though the White House later disputed that figure, it said it could not provide a more accurate one due to security concerns.

Why are so many people necessary to go along in this age of immediate communications? The president can only speak with a handful of people and whom he may need at his side during negotiations. What are all these other people doing that they could not do back in the US?

I can perhaps excuse the need for a couple of bullet-proof vehicles for the president. But why cannot everyone else use local vehicles? Security seems to have become an excuse for lavish travel for the entire entourage at taxpayer expense.

Why can’t world leaders be more like the former president of Uruguay Jose Mujica when he was in office from 2010 to 2015?

He lives in a run-down house on Montevideo’s outskirts with no servants at all. His security detail: two plainclothes officers parked on a dirt road.

In a deliberate statement to this cattle-exporting nation of 3.3 million people, Mr. Mujica, 77, shunned the opulent Suárez y Reyes presidential mansion, with its staff of 42, remaining instead in the home where he and his wife have lived for years, on a plot of land where they grow chrysanthemums for sale in local markets.

Visitors reach Mr. Mujica’s austere dwelling after driving down O’Higgins Road, past groves of lemon trees. His net worth upon taking office in 2010 amounted to about $1,800 — the value of the 1987 Volkswagen Beetle parked in his garage. He never wears a tie and donates about 90 percent of his salary, largely to a program for expanding housing for the poor.

For democracy to function properly, he argues, elected leaders should be taken down a notch.

“We have done everything possible to make the presidency less venerated,” Mr. Mujica said in an interview one recent morning, after preparing a serving in his kitchen of mate, the herbal drink offered in a hollowed calabash gourd and commonly shared in dozens of sips through the same metal straw.

Mujica is a threat to the current world order.


  1. says

    Accidentally, I had my copy of the Tao Te Ching open to this page:

    75. Greed.

    People are starving.
    The rich gobble taxes,
    that’s why people are starving.

    People rebel.
    The rich oppress them,
    that’s why people rebel.

    People hold life cheap.
    The rich make it too costly,
    that’s why people hold it cheap.

    But those who don’t live for the sake of living
    are worth more than the wealth-seekers.

    (That is from Ursula LeGuin’s translation, which I have been reading recently, and which has quickly become my favorite.)

  2. Chancellor of the Exchequer says

    Um, cuz it looks cool, duh!

    Watch any recent action movie and you’ll notice a theme of unnecessary personnel and vehicles being employed with needless weaponry.

    Since Presidents are the big figure heads, naturally he(it’s gotta be a he for uh, um…reasons) needs excess stuff to, “oooh” and “ahhh” at.

  3. jrkrideau says

    Well, besides putting on a show, the US president probably has a few thousand people in his administration who wanted to go because it boosted their perceived importance or that of their agency.

    The same probably applies for the King of Saudi Arabia plus there may be a few princes, etc., he feels better having close to him (i.e. under strict observation).

    For the luggage, well neither US presidents or Saudi monarchs are known for travelling lightly.

    Given the King’s age, two electric elevators may be a practical issue.

  4. TruthBeTold says

    I’m guessing you haven’t see Trump’s travel spending for first 100 days. He is on pace to outspend in his first year, what Obama spent in all 8 years.

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