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 male chauvinist or worse. Still, unless these agents' actions constituted dereliction of duty (i.e., resulted in the president's security being compromised), it seems to me that they should have been given stern lectures, reprimands and suspensions instead of being fired.
First, as unprofessional as their conduct was (and no one can deny 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 much men enjoy showing off for women, these guys didn't do that. They didn't brag. According to accounts I've read, the Colombian prostitutes said they had no idea these "customers" were Secret Service agents.
Granted, these men did try to stiff the women for services rendered, and by any index that was disgraceful. Apparently, after agreeing to pay a whopping $800 for the evening, these agents attempted to settle up the next morning for a paltry $30, which reveals not only how ignorant they were of Colombian economics, but how drunk they were the night before.
Second, while it's one thing to decry their behavior, it's another thing to wallow in self-righteous indignation. Let's not be hypocrites. Despite the outrage expressed by pundits and commentators, male visitors to foreign cities tend to do this sort of thing. 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 venereal disease, fear of word getting back to Peace Corps officials in New Delhi and being sent home in disgrace and fear of the Communists. I cringe at admitting to that last one, but it's true.
As part of our orientation, the U.S. State Department had warned us 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 many of us were just timid and naïve enough to believe it.
Young, testosterone-fueled American males tend to make bad ambassadors. 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 prostitutes had they been on assignment in Denver or St. Louis.
If we're serious about fixing this problem, 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 largely 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, a Los Angeles playwright and author ("It's Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor"), was a former union rep. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org