"Showing up is 80 percent of life." -- Woody Allen
It was the non-presence that reverberated around the world. The largest demonstration to be held in the history of Paris, drawing 1.5 million participants in response to the Jihadist attacks in the French capital, was led by a phalanx of world leaders. Standing alongside French President Francois Hollande was German Chancellor Angela Merkel, UK Prime Minister David Cameron and a host of other prominent heads of state and government, representative of America's closest and most engaged allies in the global struggle that has come to define the opening decades of the 21st century. But not the head of state of the United States.
Neither Present Obama, nor Vice President Biden, nor Secretary of State Kerry saw fit to be present in this symbolically iconic march of unity. True, the lame duck Attorney General, Eric Holder was in Paris, ostensibly for meetings related to the recent terror attacks in the capital of America's oldest ally. Yet, even he chose to be absent at the rally that so galvanized the rest of the world. In contrast, even Russia, at the nadir of its relationship with the European Union over the crisis in Ukraine, dispatched Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to participate in the rally.
The absence of Barack Obama or any other senior official from his administration on January 11 in Paris is so inexplicable, even the president's most steadfast defenders are aghast. What rationale can possibly be proffered in defense of so counter-intuitive a non-action?
Undoubtedly, President Obama was acting on the "advice" of his senior national security team, the same clique of sages that counseled Obama to deny the Syrian opposition military assistance on the premise that they were only "pharmacists and doctors," thus opening the way for Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State to fill the vacuum. The same gang of consigliere that suggested a swift withdrawal of American forces from Iraq simultaneous with a declaration that the war was over, ignoring the voices of those that warned of impending disaster, such as departing U.S. ambassador to Baghdad Ryan Crocker. The geniuses that devised a provocative approach towards Russia in Ukraine guaranteed to relaunch the Cold War, on the theory that the United States did not have enough adversaries to confront in the world.
The president of the United States is not only the chief manager of the federal government bureaucracy. He is also, since World War II, the leading world statesman. His physical presence, even symbolic, has immense impact on the global stage. When President Kennedy flew to the Western zone in Berlin in June 1963 at a time of growing Cold War tension over the future of that beleaguered outpost of freedom, he intuitively understood that importance in a manner that President Obama apparently does not. Addressing a mass rally in that city, Kennedy proclaimed "Ich bin ein Berliner!" (I am a Berliner!) Kennedy's presence and words energized and inspired millions, and was a watershed moment during the Cold War.
How magnificent an opportunity it would have been if President Barack Obama had joined with his peers he is supposedly in alliance with in the confrontation with radical Islam, and proclaimed to the citizens of the French capital, "Je suis un Parisien!"
Sadly, the man who was elected as the 44th president of the United States largely on the promise that he would inspire the world with his words, offered only the unseen echo of silence.