While the national conversation of what happened at Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris have simmered down, criticism against the Obama Administration took up the newly vacant space in the airwaves and bylines of radio and online outlets all across cyberspace.
There was no shortage of statements by “experts” and consultants on the media circuit immediately following White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest’s comment at a White House Press briefing days after the attacks in Paris. At the briefing, Earnest responded to questions regarding the absence of U.S. officials and said, “It’s fair to say we should have sent someone with a higher profile” to attend the Paris March immediately following the Charlie Hebdo attack.
While this is an easy example of a moment where Mr. Earnest wasn’t wearing his P.R. hat correctly, it would also be fair to say that his comment didn’t consider national security concerns, or the inevitable criticism from opponents that would stem from the wording of his statement. However, he made some of the security concerns clear following his initial statement.
Sending President Obama or any other “high ranking” official to March in the streets with the people of Paris would have come off as an attempt to capitalize on another country’s tragedy, have given republicans more fuel for their anti-Obama fires, and most importantly, would posed been a huge security risk.
On the day of the attacks, President Obama personally called French President Francois Hollande and extended an offer of American resources to help investigate and apprehend those who carried out or enabled the attacks in Paris. The next day he visited and signed a lengthy statement in a condolence book at the French Embassy in Washington, and even seemed to pray (or at least gave a moment of silence) for those who lost their lives in the attack.
Despite this, conservatives pulled no punches in their pathos-based criticisms. Perhaps the most notably theatrical was Ted Cruz’s Heritage Action Conservative Policy Summit speech, where he mimed marching with the people of France and affirmed “how sad” it was to see “40 world leaders marching in the streets of Paris” with the United States absent (completely ignoring the fact that the march was spontaneous in and that those leaders were much closer in physical proximity than the U.S. is).
Even ex-figures of state like former director of the CIA Leon Panetta and ex-political strategist for the Carter administration Patrick Caddel threw in their own baseless and highly-arguable accusations and opinions as to how and why the Obama Administration came up short in showing solidarity.
Caddel was bold enough to emphasize that American absence was “to our detriment,” and that as a country, “we will pay a price for this”, while Panetta claimed that the U.S. “missed a chance to show solidarity with the French people.”
Perhaps what is most depressing about these accusations is the rigor that these figures devote to ignoring the data behind what could have contributed to an American absence from the marches.
In mid-December of 2014, the United States Secret Service Protective Mission Panel issued a review to the Secretary of Homeland Security regarding the White House fence-jumping incidents, and included within it were important memos and recommendations on how the service could seek to reduce the amount of risks and incidents against government officials and White House staff.
The highest recommendation? An increase in the amount of guards employed by the service. Throughout the report, the importance of an increased Secret Service force were noted to the point where the USSSMP suggested overlooking the financial implications of more hires, in the report they boldly stated: “Forget about what the Service has asked for in the past: Define the mission, and make the argument to policy makers in the Executive Branch and Congress that this sum- which we believe to be more than current appropriations-is needed.”
As ex-director of the C.I.A., the likelihood of Mr. Panetta not knowing the risks associated with sending the President of the United States to a foreign country where a terrorist attack’s investigation still remains fresh is slim to none. The nature and environment of the march (outside, open, with millions of pedestrian foot traffic) would have most likely been a nightmare for the Secret Service to keep up with. It should be noted that a week after the Paris attack, four assistant directors of the Secret Service were reassigned, so the work environment of the service could have also been called into question.
As for Senator Cruz’s statement: if he felt so strongly for the people of France, and the need to show U.S. support for France, what stopped him from attending the march himself?
One answer could be that Cruz realized his political capital would be much more wisely-utilized in the speech to his donors and lobbyists at the Heritage Action for America rather than living up to his word. Let’s not ignore that even if Obama had gone to Paris, the Republican Party would have had a talking point about the president favoring international travel rather than facing domestic issues in the bag, regardless of the tragedy that took place.
In short, this and every other criticism that came Obama’s way for this incident stems from the same root: it’s just politics.