If you try to defend or make excuses for the actions of Obama’s Secret Service agents in Colombia (consorting with prostitutes), you’re probably going to come off as a pig or male chauvinist. That said, unless these agents’ actions constituted dereliction of duty (i.e., resulted in the president’s security being compromised), the case can be made that they should have been given reprimands and suspensions rather than being fired.
First, as boneheaded and unprofessional as their conduct was (and no one can deny that the whole mess was a diplomatic embarrassment), give them credit for not having boasted to the prostitutes—even while drunk—that they were part of Obama’s security detail. Considering how readily men succumb to the urge to show off for women, these guys didn’t do that. They didn’t brag. According to the reports I’ve read, the Colombian prostitutes said they had no idea these “customers” were Secret Service agents. [But they did know they were being stiffed by at least one gringo. Editors.)
Which, integrity-wise, is more than we can say for Dick Morris, Bill Clinton’s former political advisor, who was reported to have bragged to a prostitute that he was so “connected” to the Oval Office, he could get the president on the telephone any time he liked. To prove it, Morris went ahead and called the White House, got Clinton on the phone, and allowed the woman to listen in.
Second, it’s one thing to insist that public servants representing the United States behave responsibly, but it’s another thing to wallow in self-righteous indignation. Let’s not be hypocrites. Despite the shrieking outrage expressed by pundits and commentators, male visitors to foreign cities tend to do much the same thing as these agents did. U.S. soldiers did it in Saigon and Bangkok; Southern California teenagers did it in Tijuana, Mexico; and even some of my fellow Peace Corps volunteers—noble and idealistic as they were—did it in India’s larger cities.
What kept me personally from doing it wasn’t moral rectitude or piety. It was fear. Fear of being robbed, fear of catching a disease, fear of word getting back to Peace Corps officials and being sent home in disgrace, and fear of the Communists. I cringe at admitting to that last one, but it’s true.
The U.S. State Department had warned us volunteers that there were Indian Communists lurking about, waiting for an American fool like me to do something stupid or reckless or illegal, so they could report it to the media and embarrass the United States. And I was just dumb and naïve enough to believe it.
When it comes to being de facto ambassadors, young, testosterone-fueled American males are bad choices. That’s because they view foreign countries not as exotic cultures, with unique histories, languages and artifacts, but as “playgrounds.” This viewpoint is exacerbated by the fact that in many countries prostitution is not only tolerated, but statutorily legal. Which brings us back to the Secret Service. As wrong as their actions were, it’s doubtful these same agents would have gone out trolling for whores had they been on assignment in Denver or St. Louis.
If we’re serious about fixing this problem, there’s a way to do it. We can do what Hollywood did to resolve the “casting couch” phenomenon (where casting directors extracted sexual favors from eager young actresses in return for giving them roles). Hollywood fixed that problem by putting women in charge of casting. And that’s what we should do with the Secret Service. Assign only women agents on these foreign junkets.
DAVID MACARAY, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor”), was a former union rep. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press. He can be reached at email@example.com