Five Chefs and the Queen

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Ten years ago, George W. Bush was just the president's smirky son, and his mother warned him sternly he was not to speak to the Queen of England when she visited. As a Washington Post article explained then, "The family never knows what he'll say in polite society."

Dubya ignored his mom. He showed up at the White House in cowboy boots made for the occasion that said "God Save the Queen" on each foot. He asked Lizzie -- sorry, the Queen -- who the black sheep was in her family. Dubya's mom appeared "out of nowhere," according to the Post, to cut in with "Don't answer that!"

Yet the Queen reportedly found Dubya charming on that occasion. Since then she has changed her mind. The Daily Telegraph reports the Queen was "apparently less than chuffed" to learn that President Bush, invited to stay with her, brought along five of his personal chefs.


I mean, when you wrangle an invite to stay with the Queen of England, the first thought that pops into your head is: "Hmmm ... well of course the food will suck; after all it's only Buckingham Palace."

The British press has dubbed them the "five Yankee fajita fillers." They were just a small part of the president's 650-person taxpayer-funded entourage, which included hundreds of heavily armed security agents.

And about those security agents: Incredibly, the White House felt the need to ask for an advance promise that, should the president's men decide to gun down a British citizen, they would enjoy immunity from British prosecution; such an unfortunate event would be a matter instead for the far-superior American justice system.

The Brits, and rightly so, refused. After all, imagine the American reaction if, say, the Chinese prime minister was visiting Washington and asked for blanket immunity should his hundreds of guards have to Tiananmen Square the DuPont Circle.

In the name of safety for one of the more craven presidents in American history, this White House also suggested shutting down the London subways; letting U.S. warplanes and Black Hawks buzz the city; and even shipping in battlefield weaponry -- heavy miniguns. You know, just in case.

The Brits vetoed all of it. But even without miniguns and Black Hawks, London was apparently a chaotic mess, with some 200,000 antiwar protesters crying for U.S. regime change, and 14,000 bobbies on hand to keep order.

Bush also met with families of seven of the 53 British servicemen killed in Iraq -- an event Reuters billed beforehand as "one of the centerpieces of his state visit to wartime ally Britain."

No doubt, politically, families of British KIAs were seen as safer to experiment with. After all, this is the president who has broken with historical tradition and declined to attend any of the funerals for the 400-plus Americans killed in Iraq. (Though he has found time for more than 75 fundraisers for his re-election campaign.)

Bush's image-paranoid administration has even banned news coverage of honor-guard funerals and returning coffins.

So London's mayor, Ken Livingstone, got it right when he suggested billing all of the extra security to the U.S. Republican National Committee -- since this past week's visit was all "so George Bush can use a few clips of him and the Queen in his campaign advertisements for re-election next year." Even if the Queen is less than chuffed.

Matt Bivens, a former editor of The Moscow Times, writes the Daily Outrage for The Nation magazine. []