On the road to Mandalay, be careful not to lose your passport. The U.S. Consulate there was shut down a month or so ago and the nearest help is 400 miles away at the embassy in Rangoon.
For your loved ones' sake, try not to die in Nice. Or get arrested in Brisbane. Don't bother looking for help on a business deal from U.S. commercial attaches in Turin, Italy, or the German port of Bremen. American consulates in those cities were also closed down at the same time.
All told, the Carter administration has eliminated 10 consulates around the world in the past two years. In so doing, it has managed to 1) enrage influential congressional leaders, 2) anger a lot of private citizens, 3) dismay a fair number of close allies and 4) measurably shrink America's presence worldwide at a time when the Soviets are expanding their consulates and trade missions and the Republicans are making a big campaign issue out of this country's prestige, power and influence abroad.
All that, for a saving of $1,886,000 annually.
And this cost-accounting doesn't include the loss of useful political and economic reporting that, along with services to American citizens overseas, constitutes the important work of the consular service.
Example: Mandalay's two-man consulate offered a unique vantage point from which to monitor heroin traffic from the Golden Triangle (Burma, Thailand, Laos), which accounts for up to 40 percent of the heroin supply in the United States.
The damage, let's be clear, won't be devastating. There will be substantial losses in trade promotion opportunities, services to American travelers and information-gathering capabilities. But embassies and the more than 100 surviving consulates around the globe can fill some of the gaps.
What's really troubling is what this says about the workings of the Carter White House. Here is an administration professing to have a large, conceptual world view. It is bent on firmly resisting the expansion of Soviet influence "by whatever means." Presence is power, so we move ships, men and supplies to the Persian Gulf and angle for military base rights in the area. We increase defense spending and "signal" our resolve with draft registration.
What sort of signal is it if, at the same time, we are closing down consulates around the world?
A second equally troubling question in the matter of the consulates has to do with Jimmy Carter's sense of the value of things -- both material and political. A cruise missle costs $1.5 million. For just a bit more, the president could not only have kept the consulates but saved himself a lot of grief.
This decision wasn't made routinely by economy-minded bureaucrats in the Office of Management and Budget. In the end, it was a personal decision by the president, doggedly resisted at the State Department and angrily opposed by Congress -- so much so that last year an amendment to the State Department money bill specifically instructed the president not to close the 10 consulates then on his hit list.
One of them was in Goteberg, Sweden, a big favorite with Minnesota's Swedish population, which had been closed down once before. But in 1975, Sen. Hubert Humphrey sponsored a bill ordering it to be reopened. President Ford complied.
Not Jimmy Carter. For him presidential authority as well as budget-balancing was at stake. The constitutional right of the president to appoint consular officials, he argued, implied the right to decide where to send them. He has simply ignored the amendment.
So the American consulate in Goteberg is once again closed. Meanwhile, in that same city, the Russians are building a new $4 million, two-building complex, including a trade and cultural center, to house their 60-man consulate staff.
"How can you be a major world power and act like that?" asks an official high up in the Carter entourage.
Well, actually, it's not hard. Jimmy Carter is a moralist, and stubborn. Right makes might, and Congress was not going to be allowed to muscle him. He is also a former engineer. And the way to balance the budget is to engineer it item by item. Don't look up -- or around.
Jimmy Carter is also a former naval officer, which makes it easier to recognize the value of the American flag at sea.
What seems to be missing in the Carter scheme of things is whatever it would have taken to make the next, small, almost cost-free leap in logic. That's the leap that would be required to recognize the value of the American flag on land.