WASHINGTON -- Brazilian President Dilma Rousseffs decision to snub President Barack Obama over a state visit to the United States is the latest blow to a ceremonial event thats becoming increasingly rare.
Irked by revelations of U.S. spying on her government and her, Rousseff last month became the first world leader to postpone a state visit and state dinner, the highest invite a U.S. president can bestow on a foreign leader, an august if infrequent event thats happened even less often under Obama and his predecessor.
The number of state dinners has dropped in recent years, and official dinners with world leaders, which arent as protocol-laden, are more common.
Obamas critics say he doesnt do enough fraternizing with Congress. He hasnt done much high-status dining with world leaders either, holding just six state dinners since he took office in 2009, the same number as his predecessor, George W. Bush, who was said to prefer private dining with leaders rather than tuxedo dinners. The gregarious Bill Clinton hosted 23 state dinners, George H.W. Bush gave 21 and Ronald Reagan held 35, according to State Department records.
Some peg the drop-off to the expense of the events, which is wholly borne by the U.S. government.
State visits take time, they absorb a lot of energy, therefore presidents dont do many of them, said Erik Goldstein, a professor of international relations and history at Boston University whos written about the politics of state visits. He notes that the British queen, who doesnt have the responsibility of running government, hosts only two state visits a year.
Lawrence Dunham, an assistant chief of protocol at the State Department from 1989 to 2005, attributes the decline in the number of such visits to practicality among world leaders.
I think the real thing is people want to come in and do their business, Dunham said. Weve become much more businesslike in the way we do things.
Rousseffs postponement of the trip may be unprecedented, but its not the first time that something unexpected has marked the pomp and flourish of a state visit.
In 1970, an otherwise well-choreographed visit by French President Georges Pompidou was marred when demonstrators protesting the sale of French warplanes to Libya jostled Pompidou and his wife on a side trip to Chicago.
Pompidou was put off by that, Goldstein said. He didnt make an official protest, but its clear after that that his feelings about the U.S. were pretty diminished and it affected the rest of his time in office about Frances attitude toward the United States.
Thats a step above the reception accorded Haitian President Louis Borno, who was told in 1926 before state visits existed in the U.S. government lexicon that he could have an official visit, but only at his own expense, Goldstein said.
The first visit to the United States officially classified as a state visit in modern times was that of President Syngman Rhee of Korea in 1954, Goldstein said. The chief executive decides on whom to bestow a state visit, and most are designed to showcase a solid relationship between the countries, mark the end of a period of distance between them or symbolize a rising new status for a country.
Most state visits involve an elegant dinner, a stay at Blair House near the White House and a meeting between the leaders, all preceded by a red carpet reception at the White House. The president of the Republic of Ireland got a green carpet welcome in 1959.