President Barack Obama's 10-day, four-country trip to Asia created no small amount of news even before he arrived at the G-20 economic conference. But of the three big stories during the first leg of his voyage to India, one is significant, the others symbolic and subject to misinterpretation.

President Barack Obama's 10-day, four-country trip to Asia created no small amount of news even before he arrived at the G-20 economic conference. But of the three big stories during the first leg of his voyage to India, one is significant, the others symbolic and subject to misinterpretation.


Interestingly, more attention went to Obama's recommendation to give India a permanent seat on an expanded U.N. Security Council than to some other, far more concrete steps taken during his multi-day stopover on the subcontinent. No doubt that's what the Indian government wanted to hear, along with the implicit acknowledgement that the nation has arrived as a player on the global stage. But outside of pleasing his hosts, it seems unlikely that Obama's wish will be fulfilled in the near future.


As those who watch this sort of diplomatic maneuvering know, Japan has been trying to round up support for a permanent seat for two decades, garnering the support of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton but still coming up empty-handed. Germany, the economic powerhouse of Europe, is no closer today than in the mid-'90s. Brazil and a handful of other countries in the developing world have likewise been stymied. None of that means it isn't worth talking about; the globe has changed since the days when the first (and once only) five nuclear powers had guaranteed, veto-wielding seats on the council. Regional powerhouses like India may well offer a valuable counterbalance.


Of course, any such move would almost certainly upset India's longtime rival Pakistan, with the U.S. relying on the latter for help in Afghanistan and the lawless border region between the countries that's a haven for al-Qaida. We trust the White House factored that into its thinking, but you have to wonder about the timing, and whether it's worth hacking off another ally.


Meanwhile, Obama also announced $10 billion worth of trade deals with India that the administration claims will generate up to 54,000 U.S. jobs, mostly in the manufacturing and aeronautic sectors. New export rules also are intended to simplify the ability of American companies to operate in a market with 1.2 billion consumers. Several American CEOs visiting the country praised the move, pointing out that the second-most populous nation in the world should rank far higher among America's trading partners than its current 14th.


On the surface it's good news, but it's wise to withhold judgment until those 54,000 promised jobs materialize on this side of the world. India has, after all, managed the neat trick of pulling jobs from America over the last couple of decades while simultaneously becoming a bigger market for our goods. The latter is a positive for U.S.-based companies, but with unemployment being what it is, we'd like the jobs, too.


Beyond that, we'd be remiss if we didn't remark on the repeated assertions that Obama's trip is costing taxpayers a pretty penny - some $200 million a day under the most frequent claim - slightly more than what it costs daily to wage war in Afghanistan. The story also alleged that the visit involved the deployment of 34 warships to Indian waters - about 12 percent of the whole Navy - for protection purposes. For those predisposed to despise this president, well, it's one more thing.


Alas, there seems to be no credibility to the reports, all of which can be tracked back to one anonymously sourced - indeed speculative - piece in an Indian newspaper. The number came from an unnamed official of an Indian state, which is roughly equivalent to asking the New York state comptroller to guess what it cost for, say, French President Nicholas Sarkozy to attend the U.N.'s annual session in September.


Presidential travel can be costly, involving expenses for staffers and travel and security - particularly in a city like Mumbai, the site of recent terror attacks. That said, the White House and Pentagon have both flatly denied the $200 million figure, with the former saying costs are in line with similar and significantly less expensive foreign trips by George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, once adjusted for inflation. The Pentagon called the report "absolutely absurd." Former Bush chief of staff Andrew Card said the allegations of excessive travel costs don't "pass the sniff test," and the Wall Street Journal noted that the story that launched all the anger was "demonstrably incorrect."


One can only imagine what surprises await us at the G-20.


Journal Star of Peoria, Ill.