It would have made a nice picture "“ President Obama joining more than a million people, including 40-plus presidents and prime ministers, in the streets of Paris for a unity rally and march Sunday. He should have sent Vice President Joe Biden or Secretary of State John Kerry. Attorney General Eric Holder was in Paris already, and could have laced up his walking boots.
It was a mistake "“ a missed opportunity to remind France and other allies that the United States is committed to a war against terrorism waged by two U.S. president and thousands of U.S. troops since 9/11. The White House even admits the U.S. delegation wasn't high-ranking enough.
But this was no disgrace. No embarrassment. No snub.
Get a grip. Just as Obama has a responsibility to recognize and exploit the power of presidential symbolism, his critics must not forget the importance of context. There are bigger things to worry about "“ and more important failings of the Obama administration "“ than the delicate feelings of the French.
His critics seem to forget a few things.
1. The United States has some 66,000 military personnel deployed in Europe. More than 6,800 U.S. service members have died in post-9/11 operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hundreds of billions of dollars from the U.S. treasury finance intelligence and military operations across the globe, making the United States the most stalwart enemy of terrorists.
2. The president of the United States doesn't need to march in the streets of Paris to prove his nation's commitment.
3. Somebody should find out how many federal agents, spies, and intelligence assets the United States has dispatched to Europe since the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Does anybody think the Obama administration hasn't flooded the zone?
4. Obama's presence at the rally would have been disruptive. The apparatus that follows the U.S. president is isolating and suppressive "“ a direct counter to the vibe that organizers achieved in the streets of Paris.
1) I'm getting this right-wing meme on Paris: 'Where's Obama? He doesn't care!" Reality: security footprint for outdoor showing by any POTUS— James Fallows (@JamesFallows) January 11, 2015
5. Obama and his national security team are rightly worried about the next 9/11. Only hard work and good luck have kept the wolves at bay this long. An attack like the ones in Paris last week keeps U.S. national security personnel awake at night because among their greatest fears are so-called lone wolf attacks on soft targets in the United States. There could have been a copycat.
Here's my thought process: Had there been an attack on U.S. soil while Obama marched in Paris, I would have wondered whether the president and his team had taken their eyes off the ball. Wouldn't that be the natural reaction? The conservative Outrage Machine would have demanded impeachment proceedings.
Many wise and level headed people disagree. They think Obama should have gone.
First question tomorrow at WH briefing should be "Why didn't Pres Obama go to Paris like Netanyahu,Cameron,Merkel etc?"— Greta Van Susteren (@greta) January 11, 2015
@noble150 I support Pres Obama's policies - I believe he showed poor judgment in not going himself, or sending the VP or Secretary Kerry— Lanny Davis (@LannyDavis) January 12, 2015
Personally, I've got no problem with the U.S. ambassador representing my country in Paris. If it was my call to make, I would have put Biden on a plane.
But did Obama let the world down? Take a breath. After all this country has done for Europe in the last century, let's not confuse a mistake with something more meaningful.
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.