US Blunder On Charlie Hebdo: A Decryption

An alternative vision of the political and diplomatic issues, which surrounded the absence of any top US official at the commemorating January 11 March in Paris following the terrorist attacks on Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket.

By Louis SELLIER

On Sunday, 11th January 2015, more than 1.6 million people went into the streets of Paris to show solidarity after the attack of Charlie Hebdo and kosher supermarket.

Along with them were 44 world leaders, mostly Western European leaders, but also African nation leaders, as well as Israeli Prime Minister – Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas.

Meanwhile, the United States was not represented, apart from the presence of the US local ambassador in France.

This fact led many observers to wonder why the US had not sent a high-ranking representative to the march, especially given the fact that Attorney General Eric Holder happened to be in Paris that day. Neither President Obama nor Vice-President Biden had special trips on their schedules this weekend.

After that event, most of French media announced that the White House had somehow apologized culpa for not sending a high-ranking representative to the march. John Kerry was sent to Paris the following Friday to show solidarity with France and the French people.

However, the French perception of the US diplomatic error was biased for a series of reasons due to the US internal political issues.

Josh Earnest, the current White House Press Secretary declared the following on Monday: “I think it’s fair to say that we should have sent someone with a higher profile to be there (…) We here at the White House should have made a different decision,”
And he also insisted that President Obama was not consulted personally on the decision”.

These declarations were clearly not excuses, but just show embarrassment. Stating that Barack Obama was not consulted is not credible and aims at protecting the President from further criticisms from its political opponents in the US.

The White House tried to find several ways out in order to attenuate the mistake. It explained that there have been several public statements from the President and a call to François Hollande to support France. It also pointed out that the security precautions, necessary to accommodate the president or vice-president, could have disrupted the march. What should we say about the security precautions regarding the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who came and joined the march against terror, despite of all the risks? With the contribution of the security services from the 40 countries represented, the security system was one of the greatest possible. The White House‘s tale on security measures was created to save appearances. Not to mention, the presence of the French counter-terrorism police and intelligence services, among the most experienced in the world due to the geopolitical position of France.

Later, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry hurriedly announced his own plan to visit Paris later this week. The hurry of Kerry to come and visit France was not caused by some form of regret or apology, but was essentially an attempt to calm the political and media criticism in United States.

Indeed, the decision to not send any important representative to attend the march in Paris created a political storm in Washington.

Criticism had of course been heard particularly from Republicans in Congress, and in the medias; for example, this video from Fox News, a television channel known for its pro-Republican positions:

Even pro-Obama media went harsh on the President and his colleagues Biden, Kerry and Holder. Most symbolic was the cover page of the New York Daily News on January 12, which titled “You let the world down”

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Obama pretended he could not attend for security reasons. Biden remained silent. Kerry explained he was in India to prepare an official visit. And Holder was in Paris, but too busy to join the march.

One could wonder whether this was a joke or pure amateurism. It was not: none of those four US top officials attended the march. And, as we previously explained, President Obama “was officially not consulted”, which shows at least a good sense of tragicomedy.

When Kerry came to France to “give a big hug” as he said, he denied the declaration of French foreign affairs’ minister, Laurent Fabius, that he had made excuses. Kerry stated in French in front of TV cameras: “Non, non, il n’y a pas d’excuses”.

Kerry’s denial was an insult to France and can only be understood by the US internal political issues: presenting “excuses” would have been equivalent to recognizing the blunder, with all its political consequences in Washington. In Washington, and not in Paris!

This affair feeds the well-known idea that the home policy in the United States dictates its foreign policy and reveals the existence of a profound root of American foreign policy, still alive: isolationism. And US criticism on Obama’s administration regarding the Paris march blunder focused precisely on that point: the isolationist orientation of Obama’s foreign policy.

From the 19th century to Pearl Harbour, isolationism was the dominant principle of US foreign policy. The famous Monroe Doctrine, ruled the United States foreign policy during all the 19th century: it consisted in avoiding any interference between European and American affairs.

But times have changed. In 2001, after the 11 September terrorist attacks on the United States, US President George W. Bush officially declared a “Global War on Terrorism”, an international military campaign led by the US and a coalition of other nations to destroy al-Qaeda and other militant extremist organizations.

How come 15 years later, the nation having declared the Global War on Terrorism, and leading an international coalition of nations avoided participating at the largest peaceful march against terror, the January 11 march in Paris gathering millions of citizens and almost 40 world leaders?

Irony of history, after September 11, the first world leader to show support and to visit the United States was French President Jacques Chirac!

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