Yes, Obama Missed Paris' Unity Rally — But If France Doesn't Mind, Should We?
World leaders and millions of citizens gathered in Paris on Sunday to stand against the horrific terrorist attacks that rocked France last week. The massive gathering honoring the Charlie Hebdo victims and the victims of other attacks that followed it drew larger crowds than when France was liberated from Nazi Germany. A whopping 3.7 million people participating across the country, including 40 world leaders among the 1.6 million people marching in Paris. But amid all of those marchers, there was one notable absence — the United States. But is it really a big deal that President Obama and co. missed France's Je Suis Charlie unity rally?
Well, the U.S. media seem to think so. Op-eds have sprung up decrying Obama's no-show, especially since no high-ranking official, such as Secretary of State John Kerry or Vice President Joe Biden, was sent in his place. A lengthy screed from Forbes blamed everyone from the PR team to the president himself for Obama's "most disturbing, and profoundly harmful, public relations mishap to date." The New York Daily News voiced its discontent in a particularly loud way, dedicating Monday's cover to the issue and calling the president's move (or lack thereof) an "abdication of leadership."
Kerry has already gone on the defensive. Speaking from India, where he is attending a entrepreneurship summit with the country's new prime minister, he dismissed the entire debacle.
This is sort of quibbling a little bit in the sense that our assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland was there and marched, our ambassador was there and marched, many people from the embassy were there and marched.
Kerry went on to say that the trip to India was prearranged, and that he would have very much like to have been in France, where he will be traveling on Thursday. Everyone has also turned their sights to Eric Holder, who was actually in Paris, but did not attend the march. The inconvenient thing to mention is that he was there for an anti-terrorism summit, which I think could also be apropos in light of recent events.
OK, so why didn't anyone make the trip? A White House official has cited the security detail needed for Obama or Biden as a potentially huge distraction from the event itself. Valid point. The official also brought up that the president has been active in his support for the victims and his absolute condemnation of the attack. He was one of the first to reach out to French President François Hollande, and since the attack he has made several public speeches supporting France.
Personal views on if the Obama administration should have RSVP'd "non" and given us a detailed explanation of why aside, I feel like we should all get over our knee-jerk reaction and speculation on if Obama made the U.S. look bad. Because ultimately, as evidenced by many of the arguments, pundits are looking at this as a PR flub rather than any sort of insincerity. We should focus instead on what the French think of this. Are they feeling unsupported by the United States? If that is the case, then there is the real failure in all of this.
So, what do they think? Well, it doesn't seem as if they're thinking about it at all. France has bigger fish to fry than to sit around and wonder why Obama didn't drop in to show support. Are we really that arrogant to think that everyone is sitting around wondering what we're doing, while a country is still reeling from an attack in its capital?
U.S. Ambassador to France Jane Hartley appeared on CNN Monday morning, ending a segment that had desperately been trying to get viewers fired up about Obama's absence. Hartley, who participated the march, seemed baffled by the perception that the French were angry at the U.S.
I think if you talk to the French, they believe we have been unbelievably supportive.
If you pull up Le Monde, a popular French news source, the headlines aren't about Obama. They're about their own country, which is trying to rebuild from a ghastly attack on its people. So, do you really think that it is that big of a deal? To the French, at least, it's not. And it shouldn't be here either.
Image: Getty Images, New York Daily News