When I arrived in Maastricht, the Netherlands, on Sunday the 8th, the flight attendant on the small Cityhopper jet excitedly pointed out the Queen’s airplane, parked next door to our spot on the tarmac. The Maastricht airport is modest. Besides my flight from Amsterdam, the Queen’s plane was it—a small commercial jet (like a downsized 737) sitting with no guard or other activity around it.
Once I was off the plane, getting onto the bus to go 100 yards to the "terminal", I noticed a couple of other planes, off in the maintenance area at the far end of the airport. They were somewhat larger—in fact, two 747s, quite recognizably Air Force 1 and its clone.
Then I walked to the parking lot with the cab driver, rather than climbing into the cab in front of the terminal. Then I noticed an unusual number of police in multiple clusters around the place. Then the snipers out toward the edge of the airport, and the police and soldiers at checkpoints, the soldiers in full camo and automatic weaponry every 100 yards along the adjoining highway. From anywhere in town, once I got there, I noticed choppers convoying along the presumably secure routes, ready for any kind of gunship activity called for. The President of the United States was in town.
Turns out the US (that’s us) asked the authorities in the Netherlands to close two major highways two weeks in advance of the 17 hour visit. They got two or three hours. Upwards of five thousand police, soldiers, and other security personnel were mobilized. The only cost estimate I’ve heard or been able to find so far (for the Dutch, or course) was north of 3 million Euros.
Unscientific polling amongst my colleagues during the following week revealed a strong trend in opinion: the level of security for the visit was ridiculous. You need to know how socially sane the Dutch are (despite recent cracks in the rational plaster) to grasp just how ridiculous this looked to them.
The southerners (Maastricht is practically in either Belgium or Germany, down there in that little southern peninsula of the country) don’t particularly like the Northern, Protestant Queen—but country-wide, they are way less happy about the war in Iraq. They still appreciate the Allied efforts to rid them of Nazi occupation, which is what the Bushrovers were over there to celebrate.
But I have to tell you, my fellow citizens, that the military full-court press looked like nothing more than another Fascist occupation. I was struck by the surmise, which has since proved to be the case as far as I can google the US press, that domestic audiences have no idea what the President traveling looks like to the rest of the world. He looks like a visiting warlord with his surrounding centurions (even if most of them are rented from the host country).
I wonder if the day will come when he and his chancellery don’t care whether this appearance is acceptable or not for domestic consumption. What if—here’s an evil fantasy for sure—there was to be some grievous terrorist incident early in November 2008, in which one or both of the candidates were disabled. Somehow I can see a Bushrover interregnum ("just until the country is back in order again—and the Supreme Court can certify that fact") accompanied by such military domestic shock and awe. Maybe I’m overly paranoid, or a hostage to my reading of history, but can anyone doubt the depth of the Bushrovers’ contempt for honest, partisan differences of opinion? Or their sublime self-confidence that Their Leader is the Lord’s Annointed? Sound familiar on this anniversary of VE Day?
I asked some friends in the Netherlands to see if they could find, in the Dutch press, any other estimates of the cost of Bush’s visit. One response:
I have no idea what the visit of President Bush did cost us, but today Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands visited Maastricht. She passed our office on her way to the local government. Her chauffeur was driving her in a nice car with a flag on the front. She was wearing a yellow hat and was kindly waving to the people that stood next to the road. She was accompanied by 6 police men on motor bikes and the road was blocked for two minutes.
And guess what, she was not shot, there where no demonstrations and above all. I think I could have paid for the cost of her visit today.