As a lobbyist – or sometime policy wonk person who helps entities with the government, I am pretty careful not to criticize one party or another – but in the absence of a high level Obama administration official at Sunday’s march in Paris, I feel like l have no choice.
The Associated Press reports that as many as 50 world leaders marched in solidarity with the French people and at least 1.2 to 1.6 million people walked behind these leaders the French Interior Ministry estimated that around 3.7 million marched throughout France.
The list of world leaders was impressive –
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyah of Israel, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of Mali, President Francois Hollande of France, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, President Mahoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, and Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain to name a few.
And who represented the United States? Well, the President couldn’t go – so normally protocol would dictate that the Vice President would go – but apparently he was busy and Sec. of State Kerry was in India, but he’s going to stop by France on his way home, Attorney General Holder was in Paris but in counter-terrorism meetings so we had our Ambassador to France, Jane D. Hartley, represent us. At least the government saved money on plane fare.
In the swirling aftermath of 9/11, America let down its political guard and was united – Republicans, Democrats, and seemingly the world, poured out their sympathy for a grieving nation. Just days after that horrific event, then President George W. Bush stood at Ground Zero atop a pile of rubbish and thanked firefighters and first responders for their work. When one of them said he couldn’t hear what the President was saying, President Bush grabbed the bullhorn and responded, “I can hear you! The rest of the world can hear you – and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!”
As Kenneth T. Walsh wrote in US News and World Report from April 25, 2013: “In that electric moment, Bush captured the mood of the country, delivering just what the American people wanted a combination of gratitude for the rescue worker’s bravery and diligence, defiance toward the terrorists, and resolve to bring the evil doers to justice.”
It’s 13 ½ years later and 17 have been killed in Paris in another al-Qaeda linked terrorist attack and the French’s bullhorn moment was Sunday’s march in Paris. The Administration somehow missed it.
At the risk of sounding like some of my crazy relatives- what was the Administration thinking?? This was an al-Qaeda-linked extremist attack. Did they think that the 17 who lost their lives didn’t justify sending a high-level U.S. representative?? They could have asked former President Clinton or Jill Biden or even Secretary of the Treasury, Jack Lew. Of course, there are security concerns but not to truly stand physically with the French in this moment, to my mind, sends a very sad message. It was the first time since 9/11 that the leaders of the Western world stood together as one in defiance of terrorism and we weren’t truly there. A moment lost forever. And while Sec. Kerry can say that our relationship with the French wasn’t about that moment, he’s only right to a certain extent. That moment was important.
To the Administration’s credit, the criticism of the world has had an impact and they admitted that they were wrong in not sending the President or a high level government official. A little after the fact – but at least they admitted it.
I would think it goes without saying that if we as a nation want, expect, and deserve to have others grieve with us when tragedy happens on our soil, then we must show the same respect to other nations who experience tragedy. And given our nation’s history with the French who helped us win the Revolutionary War by sending troops and money, and who gave us the Statue of Liberty and designed our nation’s capitol, one would think they deserve an important representative of our government at such a significant moment – in a march when the world showed solidarity against terrorism and stood up for a freedom we hold dear: the First Amendment to the Constitution, freedom of speech.
“I hope that at the end of the day, everyone is united. Everyone – Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists. We are humans first of all, and nobody deserves to be murdered like that. Nobody.” Zakaria Moumni – marcher in Paris.
Je Suis Charlie
Diane Rogers, Capstone Partner, draws on 25 years of experience working in state and federal government, offering clients expertise in public policy, politics, management, and strategic planning. Contact Diane here to find out more.