Obama administration officials play hooky in wake of Charlie Hebdo
On Jan. 7, two gunmen with alleged ties to fundamentalist Islam ravaged the Paris offices of the satirical newsmagazine Charlie Hebdo, killing 12 and injuring 11 more.
But in the case of top U.S. officials, “je suis Charlie” has been replaced by “faux pas.” Notably absent from the ranks of over 40 world leaders who gathered in Paris on Sunday to march in solidarity with the Charlie Hebdo victims was U.S. President Barack Obama. And Vice President Joe Biden. And Secretary of State John Kerry.
In fact, according to Politico, the highest-ranking American official on-site at Sunday’s march was Jane D. Hartley, the U.S. Ambassador to France. And although Attorney General Eric Holder had in fact been in Paris attending meetings along with deputy Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, neither made an appearance at the march.
And the president and other top U.S. officials weren’t just no-shows in Paris. They also failed to attend a parallel march in Washington, D.C. from the Newseum to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial that was organized last Sunday by the French Embassy.
According to a tweet by Gérard Araud, French Ambassador to the U.S., the top American official to attend Sunday’s event was Victoria Nuland, the assistant secretary at the Department of State.
After pundits pounced on its truancy, the Obama administration quickly realized it was in hot water. Although the president had previously issued a statement condemning the attacks and paying lip service to Franco-U.S. solidarity, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest later admitted that the administration “should have sent someone with a higher profile” to the Paris demonstration.
In a particularly bizarre bout of backpedaling, Kerry made an appearance earlier today at Paris city hall alongside guitarist James Taylor, who performed a version of “You’ve Got a Friend.” He claims a long-scheduled summit on the Indian economy as the reason for his original absence and has apologized for missing the march.
Appearances at vigils and shows of support, of course, aren’t the whole story. A White House aide stated that “all relevant components of the United States government have been working on supporting…French capabilities” in the wake of the massacre. This could conceivably prompt additional technology-sharing between the two governments to detect and prevent future attacks.
In geopolitics, however, appearances matter—sometimes even more than the truth. President Obama might have earned a reputation as something of a diplomatic cold fish, but he’s also a competent statesman. The administration’s failure to respond to the Charlie Hebdo attacks with genuine empathy—or at least the pretense thereof—isn’t just bad form.
But pardon my French.
Photo: The White House via Wikimedia Commons