Why didn’t President Obama go to Paris?
Monday brought a lot of quickly discarded excuses. 1) The excuse that the United States was adequately represented, as suggested by Kerry’s claim that critics were “quibbling” because the U.S. ambassador attended. White House press secretary Josh Earnest eventually retreated on that one. 2) The claim that there were security concerns, which suggested the security measures taken to protect the French president, U.K. prime minister, and Israeli prime minister were somehow insufficient. Also note that the entire point of the march was to send a message to the world that leaders will not be intimidated by extremists who threaten to kill them. 3) Complete and total staff incompetence: “White House aides were so caught off guard by the march’s massive size and attention that they hadn’t even asked President Barack Obama if he wanted to go.”
The simplest explanation — and one that doesn’t contradict option 3 — is that President Barack Obama doesn’t want to put his personal stature and credibility on the line to support something like Charlie Hebdo. Since those awful attacks, we’ve witnessed a lot of allegedly intellectual leftists offer versions of “the attacks were terrible, but —” and then explaining why Hebdo was offensive, hate speech, and unnecessary provocation, foolish, etc., and imply that the magazine isn’t really worth defending and that the world would be a better place if these immature, impudent cartoonists would stop making fun of one of the world’s great religions.
There’s very little evidence to suggest that Obama disagrees with this progressive intellectual reaction, that while satire of Islam is theoretically legal, the consequences of enraging Muslims is too much trouble and risk to be worthwhile. We saw this in the response to Hebdo before, and the infamous YouTube video that the administration cited as a scapegoat for the Benghazi attacks. To a lot of progressives, while depicting Muhammad or mocking Islam shouldn’t be banned, it should be discouraged, and a presidential appearance at that rally and march would be too close to an official endorsement of the magazine and its contents.
As then–White House press secretary Jay Carney put it in 2012 while discussing the French magazine’s Muhammad cartoons:
We don’t question the right of something like this to be published; we just question the judgment behind the decision to publish it. And I think that that’s our view about the video that was produced in this country and has caused so much offense in the Muslim world.
Obama would never support going into a magazine and shooting people. But he’s a famously thin-skinned public figure who thinks he has a particularly powerful connection and understanding of the Muslim world because he spent some childhood years in Indonesia. He is so mono-focused on “de-escalating” tensions with the Muslim world that he thinks about how he would advise ISIS. The last thing President Obama is going to do is take some sort of personal action that indicates a real show of solidarity with cartoonists who offend Muslims.