One and a half million people took to the streets of Paris over the weekend to show their opposition to terrorism in the face of last week’s horrid attacks. That’s the way the French do it: public demonstrations are a regular part of French life and assembling a big march down a major street is a standard practice. What made this one different is the number of people participating and the fact that the leaders of France, Germany, Israel and other nations were out there on the streets, too, leading it.
This might be a powerful way of showing solidarity and uniting the nation behind opposition to violence, but there is more to it than that. Republicans have been quick to criticize Obama for not going or not at least sending a delegation of top officials.
Here’s a question: is it brave or foolish to make such a public assembly right after a terrorist attack? Could there not be a bombing or other action to kill a large number of officials at such an event? What’s more, if there were to be a future attack of a similar nature to those in Paris last week and the terrorists knew the response would be to hold a big march, might they not stage one attack in order to set the table for the second? What would be the reaction of France and Europe if half or more of their national leaders were killed in such a response? It seems likely that the rage for blood in return after such an event would be almost beyond stopping.
In saying today (1.12.15) that President Obama did not want to go because of the disruption that can occur when a US president is at a mass public event, the White House acknowledged that it would have looked a lot better to have a higher level representative in Paris than the US ambassador. The fact that jets can get across the Atlantic overnight has made being there almost a necessity in some situations.
The US Secret Service, beyond any doubt, would not like to see a US president marching down a street where bystanders had not been checked for weapons or bombs. Ever since Dallas in 1963, procedures have been in place, and increased since that time, about how presidential movements in public are handled. There is, in fact, a likelihood that the French would have been insulted to be subjected to this kind of pre-planning and monitoring and that, in turn, could have become the issue of the day, rather than Obama’s absence.
The larger question, however, is whether holding such a public event might set up the potential for disaster in the future. The answer is yes.
Doug Terry, 1.12.15