Only the U.S. ambassador to France represented the American administration on Sunday – not Obama, Kerry or even Holder. This is an absence that will leave scars.
Do you know Jane Hartley? She’s a businesswoman, works in the media and is the CEO of a consulting firm in Manhattan. Being very wealthy, she was one of the biggest donors for Barack Obama’s campaign in 2012. As a token of gratitude, he appointed her U.S. ambassador to France last October. She was the only representative of the U.S. administration at the historic republican march on Sunday, Jan. 11. Yes, the only one.
We hoped that Obama, braving the risks that all the other heads of state in Paris ran, would not be satisfied with his certainly symbolic yet insufficient visit to the French embassy in Washington on Jan. 8,and would decide to show up at the last minute, by surprise, or failing that, Vice President Joe Biden. We even would have settled for Secretary of State John Kerry. Even the foreign minister of Russia, Sergei Lavrov, who isn’t a big fan of demonstrations, showed up.
Alas, we had to make do with Jane Hartley, whom no one in the crowds or even on TV recognized, because nobody knows her. Thanks anyway, Mrs. Hartley, for salvaging the honor of France’s oldest ally (which we still call them anyway).
Not Even in Washington
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was actually in Paris for a meeting on terrorism. But he did not wish to walk side by side with the French and the 50-something heads of state and government who had the courage to be there (although it’s true that we would have liked some of them to stay home). Even Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, who attended the same meeting held in the French capital’s heavily protected offices, didn’t want to join them.
Get this: For the first time in history, U.S. Secretary of State (John Kerry) and his deputy (Antony Blinken) are perfectly fluent in French and supposedly ultra-Francophiles. Blinken, stepson of French Legion of Honor awardee Samuel Pisar has even lived in France for several years, and Kerry regularly comes to Paris to see his family. Even so, I repeat, neither of them walked alongside the Parisians.
After a (moving) speech in French, Kerry preferred to stay in New Delhi, showing once and for all that America is looking toward Asia. And Blinken simply dished out a tweet on Sunday.
These “leading figures” didn’t even participate in the solidarity march organized in Washington on Sunday, just a few steps away from the State Department. Of course, they are no better than Obama. Or Joe Biden. Or any member of the U.S. government.
The only official present in the U.S. capital together with the French community was the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs: the infamous Victoria Nuland. Thanks, Mrs. Nuland!
You may recall that on Sept. 12, 2001, the day after the attacks, it was France, through the voice of its U.N. representative, Jean-David Levitte, that got a (unanimous!) vote for a resolution authorizing the U.S. to exercise the right to self-defense. And a few days later, Jacques Chirac was the first Western head of state to show up in New York: a sacred ally, greatly unloved in return.
We expected the same support for our “cultural Sept. 11,” as Professor Gilles Kepel at the Paris Institute of Political Science puts it.
This is not the first time that Obama has let France down. You may remember what happened on Aug. 31, 2013, when everything was in place to strike the Assad regime, which was found guilty of using chemical weapons against its people. The planes were airborne. At the last minute, Obama pulled out.
To make amends, he invited François Hollande over for dinner at the White House for a tête-à-tête. If I may say, it’s not even worth the candle.
The cynicism continues. The U.S. president decided to free-ride on the global emotion brought on by the “Charlie Hebdo” attack. The following day, he called for an international counterterrorism conference to be held in mid-February – in New York. At his place, where he’s well-protected.
All of this will obviously leave scars. Deep ones. And John Kerry’s catch-up visit next Thursday in Paris isn’t going to be enough to heal the wounds. Other strong, concrete gestures of friendship are needed. Otherwise the trans-Atlantic family is definitely going to fall apart.
Update: a fault confessed. The White House just acknowledged its “error.” During a press briefing, a spokesperson stated that America regretted that it wasn’t represented by someone of “higher profile” than the ambassador. Nevertheless, he could not explain why Attorney General Eric Holder was unable to participate in the historic procession.
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