With all of the attention on his would-be successors, relatively little is being said or written about President Bush anymore. But an announcement from the White House this week involves a subject that has always interested me: a state visit of a foreign leader.
President and Mrs. Bush will host President John Kufour of Ghana, and Mrs. Kufour, for a state visit on September 15. The state dinner that accompanies this visit will, according to the Associated Press, be the sixth such occasion during Bush's presidency. Apparently that is a low number for a two-term president.
The State Department during the Clinton Administration produced this document describing protocol for such occasions. For one thing, technically, this honor is reserved for heads of state. A head of government who is not a head of state, such as a British prime minister or a German chancellor, may make an "official visit", but not a "state visit".
I wrote here about the distinction between head of state and head of government. That distinction is irrelevant in the U.S., where both roles are combined in one office, that of president.
I'm sure that more business gets transacted on the average official visit than on the average state visit. However, there is more pomp for the state visit. For example, a visiting head of state gets a 21-gun salute, while a head of government only merits 19 guns.
I originally thought that any White House meal for a foreign leader could be called a "state dinner". But actually that designation is limited to a relatively small number of occasion when all the stops are pulled out for the affair. It can be used to make a political statement, such as in the upcoming case, where Bush wants to reward Ghana for being on friendly terms with the U.S.