Monday, January 12, 2015

America betrays its values by not sending top U.S. officials to Paris unity rally

This country has always been better than anyone at standing up for freedom, courage and principles. That’s what world leaders and others did at a rally in Paris on Sunday. America’s only representative was its ambassador to France. A recognizable face of the Obama administration should have been with them.

January 11, 2015

There was an extraordinary moment and extraordinary scene in the middle of Paris, in the middle of a Sunday afternoon that will be remembered, after a week when it was Paris this time that became the capital of a dangerous world, when terrorists came to Paris to shoot up a magazine and a Jewish deli. This is how it works now, sometimes terrorism is just bad men and women coming through the front door with guns.
So millions took to the streets of Paris on this day, and 40 world leaders locked arms at the front of it all, including the prime minister of Israel and the Palestinian president. They all spoke defiantly, just by being present, about what had happened at the magazine Charlie Hebdo because of political cartoons, and at that deli, where more innocent people died.
This was a different form of French resistance in Paris on this day, all of these people coming together and sending out pictures like this to the world about the world we still want this to be, instead of the one that terrorists want, and that means all terrorists, the world where we live in constant fear.
And the United States of America should have been at the front of that line. And was not.
If you give the President every benefit of the doubt about why he should not show up in Paris at this time even though Angela Merkel did and David Cameron and Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, there should have been a more visible representative from this country than our ambassador to France, Jane Hartley.
We are told that Secretary of State Kerry had important business in India, though you wonder what would have been more important on this day than Paris. But Joe Biden shows up everywhere. At the least, the very least, Attorney General Eric Holder, who was already in Paris for an international conference on terrorism, could have taken some time out from doing interviews for Sunday morning talk shows to stand in one of the front rows Sunday, just because Holder has been a prominent face in Barack Obama’s administration for a good, long time.
This was a day to show up and to stand up, for the kind of march about freedom and courage and principles that this country has always done better than anyone. This is what the best and most noble of our marches on Washington must have looked like to the rest of the world.
“This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven,” the President said in September, with great force and conviction. And you know how often he has spoken in the past several months about the international coalition that will be needed to combat the growing threat of ISIS.
Some of those that he wants — and needs — in that coalition were there on the streets of Paris on Sunday. Cameron was there, and will most likely be in Washington in February when President Obama convenes his own summit on extremism in the modern world. Perhaps Francois Hollande of France will be in Washington, too, and Merkel. But before that they were in Paris on this extraordinary day. A real face of the Obama administration, a recognizable face, should have been there with them.
Of course there was no battle being fought in Paris on this day, with this angry, amazing crowd of people and the politicians who came to march with them. What happened in Paris and in front of the world does not change the executions inside the offices of Charlie Hebdo, does not bring back any of the dead. Demonstrations never do, even when they speak to the best in all of us.
Of course there was no war being fought on this day. It only looked that way, a war and a movement all at once. It was the kind of fight you don’t want to sit out and should not sit out if you can help it.
No one is saying Obama should have been in a setting like that, or could have been. But if we decided not to send Biden, and Kerry couldn’t make it, what possible reason is there for Holder, who was already in Paris, to have sat out a moment like this?
“We are the ones who asked, rightly so, for troops to support us in Afghanistan, troops to support us against ISIS. We are looking for cooperation from around the world; symbolically we should have had someone there who is instantly recognizable,” Rep. Pete King (R-L.I.) said, “so when people around the world see these photos, they recognize the face and say that’s the United States of America.”
Everybody knows how complicated this country’s relationship with France has been, in war and in peace. Certainly there have been times when the leaders of France could have done better by us. We should have done better by them on Sunday. Only you couldn’t find us.

No comments: