Barack Obama

The president’s decision to skip the Paris march raises eyebrows.

By Edward-Isaac Dovere
1/11/15 – 6:26 PM EST

Barack Obama n’est pas Charlie — or at least, he wasn’t this weekend.

Don’t look for the president or vice president among the photos of 44 heads of state who locked arms and marched down Boulevard Voltaire in Paris. Nor did they join a companion march the French Embassy organized in Washington on Sunday afternoon.

Indeed, Obama’s public reactions to the attacks in Paris last week have been muted. His initial response Wednesday to the killing of 12 people at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper offices was delivered as he sat calmly in an armchair in the Oval Office speaking about the “cowardly” acts and defending freedom of the press. Two days later, as a gunman took hostages and went on to kill four people in a kosher grocery, Obama took a few seconds away from a community college proposal rollout in Tennessee because he said with events unfolding, “I wanted to make sure to comment on them” — but neither then nor afterward specifically condemned that attack.

Obama wasn’t far from the march in D.C. on Sunday that wended silently along six blocks from the Newseum to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. Instead, he spent the chilly afternoon a few blocks away at the White House, with no public schedule, no outings.

Joe Biden was back home in Wilmington, Delaware. Neither they nor any high-level administration official attended either event.

France’s top diplomat in the U.S. tried, diplomatically, to make the best of it.

“Thank you to Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary at the Department of State, who has represented the U.S. Authorities at the demonstration in DC. A friend,” Ambassador Gérard Araud tweeted Sunday evening, as criticism of the administration mounted.

And though it’s symbolism — Obama made several statements last week condemning the terror, and the government has been supporting French efforts throughout — the symbolism has caught a lot of attention.

“I wish our US President had gone to Paris to stand with our European allies,” tweeted James Stavridis, the retired Navy admiral and current dean of Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

“It’s stunning, truly stunning,” said Aaron David Miller, who among other responsibilities during his time at the State Department under both Republican and Democratic administrations, helped deliberate over which officials to send to which events. “It’s a poster child for tone deafness.”

Miller said he could see only two explanations for not sending the president, vice president or even first lady Michelle Obama to Paris: either that there was a deep terror threat, or that Obama might be secretly planning a larger event with NATO allies — bigger than the visit that British Prime Minister David Cameron (who was in Paris Sunday) will be making to the White House at the end of the week. But there’s no sign of such an event being organized, and Miller said there’s no reason to believe one is coming.

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