We learn from our mistakes, do we not? We — that is my wife and I — have just had the chance to do so. Due to what Hillary Clinton might call a “misstatement,” we concluded that as from next January British visitors to the United States would no longer enjoy a visa waiver, but would need to have a proper visa in their passports. An embassy official explained that the pressure of applicants was so great that we could have an appointment to see a consul only in four weeks time. And the cost, payable in advance, was $131 per person. We booked a time and paid.
The day duly arrived. We took a cab as parking a car is out of the question in central London. Another $25 (and the same again leaving.) Approach roads to the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square have been narrowed, and fortified with bollards, concrete barriers and wire fences reminiscent of Baghdad’s Green Zone. British policemen were cradling sub-machine guns — not long ago the British were specially proud that their police were unarmed. We queued for almost an hour until reaching the metal detector. Car keys with locking devices were not permitted, but had to be deposited in a pharmacy some hundreds of yards away (and for a fee.)
Eventually we reached the embassy itself, received a number and sat in a vast room with the other visa applicants — they do seven hundred a day, every day. Around me were people speaking Russian, Greek and French, also people from India and Africa speaking languages I couldn’t identify, the old and the young and babies in arms. Several hours later, our number was called, and we received a visa valid for ten years, plus the information — gently delivered — that it was unnecessary. (And we’d have to pay a courier service another $40 to deliver our passports next week.)
And the lessons of this experience, in addition to mortification and the costs of it? That terrorists have contrived to add a new level of ugliness to the surroundings, and much bureaucratic inconvenience, which is a success of sorts for them. And also that no matter what critics may say, and no matter any crisis, ordinary people from everywhere continue in untold numbers to set their hopes on entering the United States.