- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 4, 2000


Maybe it was too good to be true. Having been the first to report on the rajah-rich price tag of the imperial passage through South Asia sorry presidential trip to India, ABC News has since rethought its original story. It seems, as the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz noted this week, Peter Jennings issued a retraction of sorts, announcing, by way of preface, that the White House "takes issue with our characterization that the president has spent 'days of protected sightseeing' in India." While ABC never uttered truer words, Mr. Jennings saw fit to side with the Clinton administration and effectively recant. "The White House makes a good point," Mr. Jennings intoned. "Mr. Clinton has spent the great bulk of his time trying to improve U.S.-India relations and reduce the danger in the region of nuclear war. And his efforts have been very well received."
By whom his staff? Even a casual perusal of the dispatches sent back from the subcontinent turns that line into a big hoot. From Pakistan, the Associated Press reported that the president's "appeal for [nuclear] restraint seemed to go unheeded," whereas in India, "the government in New Delhi showed little interest" in Mr. Clinton's entreaties. Don't even mention the meeting with Syria's Hafez Assad on the way home. What remains true despite Mr. Jenning's genuflection on reflection, is that the president took the most expensive presidential trip in American history, spending an estimated $50 million to tour India and Pakistan for six days for no discernible national interest, employing, as noted before on this page, 77 Air Force planes (fully one-third of the Air Force's daily inventory) to do so.
Not, of course, that the president didn't get something out of it. From going to the Taj Majal ("I've wanted to come here all my life," he said), to going on safari, (advance men tracked tigers on a reserve to ensure that the president got a glimpse of one), Mr. Clinton had exotic thrills galore, and even fit in a little shopping on the side. (The AP reported that shortly after Mr. Clinton left a carpet store with three silken purchases, "Secretary of State Madeleine Albright apparently acting on Clinton's tip went to the same store and left with an armload." Awed by a visit to Ghandi's memorial (Mr. Clinton said he hoped to see a Ghandi monument erected in Washington), and clearly elated by petal-wafting milkmaids, the president seemingly had only one regret: "I desperately wanted to ride on an elephant's back," Mr. Clinton said, having deferred to aides who feared embarrassing snapshots. "I've always wanted to do it."
Too bad. Of course, he'll have his other memories. But are they worth $50 million? And why does that number ring a bell? It seems that the General Accounting Office has released its final tally of the cost of Ken Starr's six-year phase of the independent counsel probe of Mr. Clinton. The grand total comes to $52 million, making it the most expensive such inquiry in history. Give or take a million, the cost of the president's Indian interlude stacks up pretty precisely with the cost of the Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky investigations. Think of it. Six days of presidential procession vs. six years of hard work. A weak performance on the world stage vs. the painstaking uncovering of malfeasance of historic proportions. A forgettable junket vs. a record of the legacy of lawlessness. Turns out the Starr investigation was cheap at the price.

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