Criticism against the Obama administration took up the newly vacant space in the airwaves and bylines as national conversation about the Charlie Hebdo attack simmered down.
There was no shortage of statements by so-called experts in 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. He said it would be fair to think the administration should have sent someone with a higher profile to attend the Paris March immediately following the Charlie Hebdo attack.
This is an easy example of a moment when Earnest was not wearing his public relations hat correctly. It would also be fair to say his comment did not consider national security concerns or the inevitable criticism from opponents stemming 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. This would have given Republicans more fuel for their anti-Obama fires and, most importantly, pose a huge security risk.
President Obama personally called French President Francois Hollande on the day of the attacks and extended an offer of American resources to help investigate and apprehend those who carried out or enabled the attacks in Paris. He visited the next day and signed a lengthy statement in a condolence book at the French Embassy in Washington and even gave a moment of silence for those who lost their lives in the attack.
Conservatives pulled no punches in their pathos-based criticisms despite Obama’s actions. 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 the United States absent from the 40 world leaders marching in the streets of Paris. Cruz seemed to completely disregard the march was spontaneous and those leaders were much closer in physical proximity than the U.S.
Former director of the CIA Leon Panetta and ex-political strategist Patrick Caddell 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.
Caddell was bold enough to emphasize American absence was “to our detriment.” Additionally, Panetta claimed the U.S. missed an opportunity to show support for the people of France.
Perhaps what is most depressing about these accusations is the rigor these figures devote to ignoring the data behind what could have contributed to an American absence from the marches.
In December 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. Important memos and recommendations were included on how the service could seek to reduce the amount of risks and incidents against government officials and White House staff. The highest recommendation was to hire more people regardless of financial implications.
The chaotic environment of the march would have most likely been a nightmare for the Secret Service to keep up with. It should be noted four assistant directors of the Secret Service were reassigned a week after the Paris attack, 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 Cruz realized his political capital would be much more wisely utilized in the speech to his donors and lobbyists at Heritage Action for America rather than living up to his word. 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 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.