John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State, appealed to critics of the absence of any high-level White House representatives at the unity rally in Paris on Sunday in response to the recent terrorist massacre at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and the ensuing hostage situation resulting in the deaths of 17 people over three days. Although the White House now admits that it was a mistake to fail to send high-ranking officials to show support for the French people and their grief, Kerry chides the wave of disapproving voices for “quibbling” over details, pointing out that the U.S. was represented among the marchers. He expresses regret that he could not personally attend due to previous commitments in India but plans to travel to Paris on his way home from India to reinforce the U.S. solidarity and support France in their mourning.
Sunday’s anti-terror march attracted approximately 40 national leaders from around the world and over a million French civilians to Paris who all came together to raise their voices in protest against the growing wave of terrorism coming from militant Islamic factions in the Middle East. Among the high-profile leaders joining French President Francois Hollande at the rally were President Mahmoud Abbas of Palestine, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Donald Tusk President of the European Union and President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of Mali. The absence of U.S. President Obama, Vice President Biden or any high-ranking officials such as Kerry or Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew raised some eyebrows and earned the White House a sound beating of criticism in the news and social media. Although Kerry’s appeal points out that Victoria Nuland, the assistant U.S. Secretary of State and U.S. Ambassador Jane Hartley marched along with several members of the embassy staff, many critics feel that the lack of a high-ranking official is an affront to the heartbreak that the French people are enduring right now.
The puzzlement at the high-level faux pas deepened when it came to light that Attorney General Eric Holder had altered his travel plans to be personally present in Paris over the weekend and give face to his solidarity and sympathy for the French people in their grief, yet did not stay for the public rally. Department of Justice spokesman Brian Fallon revealed that Holder attended a summit of world leaders convened at the behest of President Hollande before the march where he promised French officials ongoing U.S. support in their investigation into the tragedy. However, Fallon claims that Holder had to return to D.C. before the rally raising questions of why, having already made a detour to be in France in their time of need, he could not arrange to stay a few more hours.
Cable news, social media and newspaper headlines scorched President Obama for letting the world down by his absence and that of his senior officials such as Secretary of State Kerry. The White House did not appear to take the initial roasting too seriously, branding it as media hype and not that any foreign officials were actually offended. Continued criticism from Republican presidential hopefuls Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz seem to have convinced the White House administration that failing to appear was a mistake, which they regret and admit they should have ensured the presence of at least one high profile representative. Their explanation for Obama’s no show was lack of sufficient notice to arrange for the necessary security for a volatile setting such as a public march. They now concede that although it would have been difficult, they could have pulled it off.
Former President Jimmy Carter agreed with Kerry’s assessment of the perceived quality of U.S. representation at the Paris anti-terrorism rally, calling the firestorm of criticism of the absences “overblown.” Kerry appealed for a pass on his absence, explaining that he was honoring a prior commitment in India that prevented him from going to Paris over the weekend. However, he will be traveling to France this coming Thursday to make it clear that the U.S. stands behind their long-time French allies. He is confident that the French people know that they have America’s support and understanding in their grief. Nonetheless, Kerry wants to make it crystal clear that the U.S. government is just as passionate about fighting the terror that precipitated the recent Paris violence and the subsequent heartache of the French people.
By Tamara Christine Van Hooser