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A Missed Opportunity

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America’s absence in France Sunday was a major disappointment

As an American, I always hate when I see the United States at the center of attention when we shouldn’t even be part of the story.

That happened again Sunday.

In a global event of solidarity for those slain in the Charlie Hebdo attack last week that claimed the lives of 12 cartoonists, journalists, and police officers, 3.7 million took the streets of Paris to show support for free speech, opposition against terrorism and reverence to those killed.

Yes. 3.7 million. The entire city of Chicago could show up for the next rally, and it would still be a million short of the number in the streets of Paris Sunday.

World leaders from France, England, Germany, Palestine, Israel, and many more stood together in a rare sight of unity. But the United States was nowhere to be found.

I know what you are thinking one of two things: “What?!?” or “The president must have has something of dire importance to tend to.”

I agree with both responses. And that’s what I initially thought, until I found out President Obama was sitting in the White House and Vice President Biden was at his home in Delaware.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told the press on Monday that the presidential security is difficult to set up on short notice, but this wasn’t a birthday party that you are trying to attend. It was one of the largest gatherings of world leaders in complete unity in recent memory. I would think the leader of the free world would be able to expedite things for something this important.

There is no acceptable reason that Jane Hartley, the U.S. Ambassador to France, should be our highest-ranking official there. Attorney General Eric Holder was in Paris and still wasn’t present for the march.

Even if timing was the reason – which I am not buying for a second – that still doesn’t mean you couldn’t have sent Secretary of State John Kerry or Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel or even a former president. Or told Holder to stop over at the march before the counterterrorism conference he was attending.

To Earnest’s credit, and to the credit of the Obama administration for that matter, they did admit they made a mistake in not sending someone. But still, that isn’t enough.

I think it’s obvious that incompetence was behind this mishap. It was an oversight. And that is painfully ridiculous.

One of the pillars of the unity march was freedom of speech. Sure, many of the world leaders present don’t agree with the concept, but nonetheless it was at the forefront of the event. And that pillar is one of the biggest that this country stands on.

The First Amendment assures the rights of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. And, as evident in last week’s attacks, this country’s support for those two basic freedoms is more important today than ever before.

The famous quote from French Enlightenment thinker Voltaire circulated throughout social media this week: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

As a journalist, the first of the 10 amendments in the Bill of Rights is the one I hold closest to my heart. And as an American, I realize the importance of the founding fathers looping freedom of speech in with the others in that amendment.

I get it. The Obama administration’s absence should not have any bearing on its support for France, freedom of speech, opposition of terrorism, etc. And I wholeheartedly believe that. And the disappointment I feel shouldn’t be characterized as outrage because I know where this country stands.

This was an opportunity to show that we not only stand with France, but we stand with the world on these issues. Not to mention the importance the event may have on the future of the seemingly unattainable goal of world peace. But instead, this oversight has become a story in itself, as it should have.

As journalist, I stand with Charlie Hedbo. And as an American, I stand with the world on this issue. And as an American, I was disappointed in my country Sunday.

Je suis Charlie.

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