1-21-15 – World Leaders Link Arms Against Terror–America Missing

By John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS–More than a million people along with forty-four world leaders rallied in Paris to proclaim liberty and call for press freedoms in the wake of the radical Islamist media massacre and subsequent terror attacks. The rallies were the biggest since the liberation of Paris from the Nazis in 1944. But while the Americans were a prominent part of the extraordinary events seventy years ago, this time around America was notably missing.

Neither President Barack Obama, nor Vice President Joe Biden, nor any high-ranking member of the U.S. government, except for our locally based Ambassador, joined in this mega-march for freedom and solidarity with France in the aftermath of a dark week of terrorist attacks.

French President François Hollande was joined by a host of European political figures ranging from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron to bigwigs in the European Union. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was there (amidst a protocol controversy) as was Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Ministers from Jordan, Turkey and Russia participated too. But where was the USA?

America’s absence at this politically defining rally and moment was inexcusable.

For an Administration which speaks with self-assured hubris about “smart diplomacy “ and “soft power” the Paris demonstrations presented the perfect template to show unity with an ally, France, while at the same time importantly sending a global message that the USA stands in solidarity with press freedoms and against terror.

The optics created by the Obama Administration’s brush-off were at best indifferent and at worst uncaring. But the symbolism was stunning.

Josh Earnest, the White House spokesman, admitted that, “It’s fair to say we should have sent someone with a higher profile.’’

The political blowback to the Obama Administration’s most recent foreign policy faux pas was pretty bi-partisan. Even the pro-Administration New York Daily News headline shouted “You let the World Down”, and editorialized “Obama and America shamefully skip Paris March against Terror.”

To be fair, I would imagine that even if President Obama wanted to participate in the Paris rally, the Secret Service would have had fifty reasons to say no; after all the manifestation was in a open air setting amid majestic wide boulevards and plazas. Security concerns would have trumped any plan to participate. I totally understand. But the Secret Service was not even approached about a plan in the first place.

Maybe it’s just that the President doesn’t want to share the stage with others?

Vice President Biden was in India as was Secretary of State John Kerry.  Yet Attorney General Eric Holder was actually in Paris and skipped the march!   American Ambassador Jane Hartley, a major Obama campaign donor, was tasked to officially represent the USA.

Now, the Political damage control mode begins. Secretary of State John Kerry, a proud Francophile, finally visited Paris to offer a syrupy mea culpa in good French for the slight.

And, I’m certain Obama will make a special reference to the tragic events in France during his upcoming State of the Union address. He will speak about leadership and seriously intone how America leads in the fight against extremism. Yet in plain fact while the world was showing its solidarity with France against terrorism, team Obama was watching Sunday football playoff games!

What message does this send to our allies and friends? What message does this send to our enemies? Not surprisingly a Yemen based Al Qaida affiliate was likely involved in the Paris attacks.

The Obama Administration wishes to blur the image, tone down the threat, and downplay the proper definition of radical Islam. And if the story could not get stranger, the President authorized the release of five Yemeni detainees from Guantanamo Bay. Talk about bad timing in the wake of the Paris attacks.

But French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, addressing the National Assembly stated the case succinctly; “France is at war with terrorism, radicalism and jihadism…France is not at war with Islam and Muslims.”

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John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism The Diplomacy of Separated Nations; Germany, Korea, China (2014).

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