This weekend's Republican national unity rally in Paris and across France, the largest since the Allies liberated France during World War II, drew dozens of world leaders, including the German chancellor, the prime ministers of Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, United Kingdom, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Tunisia, and Turkey, the presidents of Benin, Gabon, Kosovo, Mali ,Niger, Romania, Senegal, Switzerland, Togo, and Ukraine, and the foreign ministers of Algeria, Lebanon, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates. The United States and China sent their ambassadors to France.
Secretary of State John Kerry became the first high-level U.S. government official to address criticism that he, another cabinet official, or even the President or the Vice President should have attended. Voice of America reports:
Speaking to reporters from India on Monday, Kerry called the criticism "sort of quibbling" and defended the Obama administration's handling of the situation.
"I don't think the people of France have any doubt about America's understanding of what happened, about our personal sense of loss, our deep commitment to the people of France in this moment of trial," Kerry said.
Kerry added that the U.S. "has been deeply engaged" and has been sharing intelligence with France from the moment the attack took place.
The top U.S. diplomat is on a long-planned trip to India and Pakistan. U.S. officials say he will stop by France on Thursday before returning to Washington.
"As everybody knows, I have been here in India for a prior planned event. I would have personally very much wanted to have been there, but couldn't do so because of the commitment I had here and it is important to keep these kinds of commitments," said Kerry.
Being on a trip planned months in advance is a good excuse.
Here's the explanation the White House gave CNN:
"Attorney General Holder—a Cabinet level official—is representing the United States at the security meetings in Paris today. He is joined by the DHS Deputy Secretary [Alejandro] Mayorkas. The United States is represented at the march by Ambassador Hartley," a senior Obama administration official said.
An administration official added: "As far as public signs of French solidarity from the U.S.—don't forget several public statements from the President, his call to [French President Francois] Hollande and a condolence stop to the French embassy."
On Sunday night a White House official who also asked not to be named added: "It is worth noting that the security requirements for both the President and (Vice President) can be distracting from events like this—for once this event is not about us!" The official did not address how other prominent world leaders were able to work around the security requirements.
Considering the target rich environment the row of world leaders gave any would-be terrorist, security must have been adequate. The president of the United States is undoubtedly a higher-profile target than most other world leaders but by the time there's as many in one place as there was this weekend in Paris it doesn't seem like it would make that much of a difference. Even the Washington Post's Paul Waldman admits he thinks the White House should've sent Joe Biden.
And the White House's explanation to CNN creates a new question—if Attorney General Eric Holder was already in Paris, why didn't he attend the rally? It may be out of character for the usual suspects to decline to attach themselves to such a highly publicized event, but the decision for neither Biden, Holder, nor some other more prominent representative than the U.S. ambassador to France to attend the Paris rally isn't necessarily the wrong one.
The U.S. has some of the most unfettered speech in the world, but the U.S. government is not immune to acting against it. The Obama administration has vigorously targeted journalists in an aggressive effort to crack down on whistleblowers and has been slammed for its lack of transparency with the media. The free speech records of the other governments that sent representatives aren't better, and are in many cases likely worse. Turkey sticks out but is not the only one. A surviving Charlie Hebdo cartoonist—for some reason he doesn't like going to staff meetings—said he "vomits" on the new friends who have supported his magazine, which has often targeted those same people mercilessly. I understand. Maybe the president wanted to avoid some well-deserved vomit.