I’ve often complained about the loss of American dominance, how our nation seems to be riding a wave of anti-nationalism. We don’t have a can-do spirit anymore; we don’t have the most integrated transportation system, nor do we have a commanding presence on global box office receipts.
So you can imagine how surprised I felt when I saw the picture of world leaders locking arms and walking through the streets of Paris in a solidarity march with those affected by the Charlie Hebdo shooting.
Here is a shortened list of those that went: Benjamin Netanyahu (prime minister of Israel), Francois Hollande (president of France), Angela Merkel (chancellor of Germany), Queen Rania of Jordan and Mahmoud Abbas (president of the Palestinian Authority).
Who wasn’t there?
I know, I know. It takes more than a couple days notice to pull together a trip for the leader of the free world. Yes, I know it would be dangerous to have the president of the most powerful nation on earth walking the streets unprotected with millions of other people.
Yet it does cast a pall over our supposed rock-hard alliance with France. Isn’t an ally supposed to come to you in your time of anguish? Isn’t this France’s time of anguish?
To make matters worse, according to some reports the president was too busy watching an NFL game to make it to the rally in Paris. Really? Too busy watching 200-pound adult men tackle each other into submission? So busy he couldn’t even send anyone higher up than the ambassador to France, someone who would already be in Paris? More insultingly, the attorney general Eric Holder was in Paris at the time and chose not to go to the rally, instead retiring to his hotel room after meeting with most of the world leaders who walked at the front of the million-person crowd earlier in the day.
If not Obama, another highly ranked official could have made the journey. Why not the vice president? But Joe Biden stayed at home, and as far as his public schedule goes, he was event-free.
At least Secretary of State John Kerry has a legitimate excuse. He was busy representing America in India.
Even if none of the top three Obama officials showed up, couldn’t a public non-administration figure have?
Why not Bill Clinton? Or George W. Bush? Anyone to show the French people that when the U.S. says, “We are your closest ally,” we mean business.
In fact, I was surprised that Hillary Clinton didn’t take the opportunity to further her platform for 2016 by joining other world leaders. What better way to broadcast your presumed arrival than to link arms with Merkel or Netanyahu.
I fear that this isn’t just a one-off freak accident. While I won’t doubt President Obama’s ability to hammer out geopolitical victories (Cuba would be a prime example), our leader has a problem with taking the credit on a global stage or, rather, not making gaffes in front of the larger global audience.
I don’t think I speak in hyperbole when I say that being president isn’t just about staying gaffe-free but also about grandstanding and taking the spotlight when needed.
It’s not just about making decisions, but about selling them.
While the White House press secretary has been careful to state that any effects will be negligible on the U.S.-France relationship, it is important to remember that France might remember this for a long time down the road.