Controversy

4 ways the Secret Service prostitution scandal hurts Obama

Lurid new details emerge of a wild night in Colombia, plunging the White House deeper into an embarrassing controversy

It will likely take awhile for the Secret Service to restore its reputation as a paragon of self-sacrifice. New details are emerging about last week's scandal in Colombia, in which 11 agents allegedly brought prostitutes back to the hotel in Cartagena where President Obama was soon to be staying. The inebriated agents reportedly revealed their identities at a Cartagena brothel, bragging that they were in Colombia to protect the president. They also brought back 21 girls to the hotel, and the military says as many as 10 of its servicemen might be involved as well. While the scandal hasn't implicated Obama directly, the White House is defending Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan and sinking deeper into a headline-grabbing controversy. Here, four ways the scandal hurts the president:

1. Obama's international diplomacy is suffering
Obama was in Colombia for the Summit of the Americas, an important venue for boosting regional ties — but you wouldn't know it from the press coverage which focused on the controversy. The biggest takeaway from the meeting itself was that the "United States and its southern neighbors are drifting apart," and that Latin America "is showing greater independence from U.S. influence as its economies continue to develop," says The Boston Globe in an editorial. Meanwhile, the behavior of the Secret Service "may reinforce impressions of North American arrogance — or a view of Latin America as a place to party rather than do serious business." 

2. His security is no longer seen as ironclad
The White House insists that the 11 agents were not directly responsible for Obama's security, but the incident has revealed gaping holes in the ring meant to protect the president and other administration officials. "We don't know who these women are," says Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). "They could be spies. They could be associated with hostile forces. They could have disabled the agents' weapons or planted listening devices or in other ways breach[ed] security." Well, the prostitutes are likely not spies, says Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), but it's true that "once you conduct yourself in this way, you open that risk."

3. His defense of government is undermined
The scandal hurts one of the central themes of Obama's re-election campaign: That the government can be a force for good in voters' lives. This embarrassing episode will only add to a "rising distrust of government," says The Christian Science Monitor in an editorial. The Secret Service was one of the few "icons of public service," and the alleged behavior of the 11 agents erodes the idea that government employees are operating "out of selfless virtue and a sense of public trust."

4. His managerial prowess could be questioned
The president is ultimately responsible for what goes on in government. And while the scandal isn't "fatal," the "image that the lights are on in the White House and there's nobody home minding the store is a problem," says Aaron David Miller at Politico. Another scandal like this and it could start "to create serious problems for the administration."

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