Yesterday’s rallies for unity across Paris and around the nation drew something like 3.5 million French citizens, the largest outpouring of faith in the victory of good over evil since the end of World War II.
They also drew an incredible collection of international leaders, who by their mere presence, expressed deep solidarity with the nation. More significantly, the crowds and the politicians shared a spirit of stirring defiance against the forces of evil who perpetrated and supported two awful terror attacks that have become a defining event of the year, if not the decade and perhaps the century.
Spontaneous international events like this are hugely symbolic, and incredibly rare. Think of JFK’s speech in West Berlin, or Reagan’s similar call to “tear down this wall!” more than 20 years later. These moments are written directly into the highlights of history, they become part of our collective memory, part of our language and knowledge of who we are, what we stand for, what makes us truly human.
This weekend, history offered us an opportunity to deliver an equally pivotal, historical statement. To define the future by bold and profound insight, to declare the way forward. The free world held its collective breath, waiting for its leader to speak.
Despite this epic gaffe, the march of the world leaders was stunning. Dozens of nations were represented by their equivalents of our President, arms linked in physical as well as metaphorical solidarity, representative of the additional unseen millions watching on TV and participating online.
It was a march for humanity, for civilization, for the humanism pioneered by the French Enlightenment. It was a march for peace, an expression of the deepest defiance of violence. It was a march expressing the power of the pen, the power of our great civilization, in contrast to the barbarism, the intolerance for diversity, and the blind hatred embodied by those under the black banner.
This opportunity for the President, and for the United States as a nation, to rally the world against terrorism was unparalleled, perhaps unique in human history. It was truly a pivotal moment, when a well-conceived and charismatically-delivered speech by our President would have made global history, in addition to securing his own honored place within it.
But it was not to be. The moment passed, and history moved on.
The United States failed to send her President. Or her Vice President. Or even the Secretary of State, fluent in French. We even failed to send a smattering of Senate or House leaders. To a once-in-a-lifetime gathering of global leaders in the capital of our oldest and most faithful ally, we sent none of those dignitaries.
We sent our lawyer.
Imagine a death in a close friend’s family, a terrible tragedy suffered by an old and dear companion from your youth. Even if the trip was long and dangerous, you would go to the ceremony. You would stand beside her in her moment of grief and trial. You wouldn’t send your lawyer to offer cold condolences and scripted formalities. That’s worse than sending nobody at all.
What an insult this was to the French people, to the one nation who stood with us in those crucial years of the late 18th century when our own existence was very much in question. Without France’s help and solidarity, we would still be drinking tea and curtesying to the Queen.
France’s soil has been soaked with more American blood than any other foreign nation. France is our singularly honored ally, the trusted caretaker of the hallowed ground where more fallen American servicemen rest than any other beyond our borders.
It is our national bond as blood brothers with France that deepens the tragedy of our absence from Sunday’s pivotal events.
The failure of the United States to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with France and the rest of the civilized word was not only an insult to the French people, but equally disrespectful to our NATO allies. Not to mention the damage it did to key players in the middle east like King Abdullah of Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority’s President Abbas, both of whom risked so much political capital, perhaps even their lives, by daring to link arms with the leaders of the west, marching mere feet from Israel’s Netanyahu.
In regard to middle eastern peace in particular, what a heart-breakingly beautiful opportunity was squandered yesterday. Not since the Clinton administration has there been a similar chance to bring Israel and Palestine together in a public and emotional way, for the three to stand together and be seen by the world talking about peace at last.
Imagine the power of such a moment, so starkly in contrast to the black flag that flutters ominously in the background of our global consciousness. With heroic courage and humanity, Israel and the PA could have been brought together by our President, with a handshake or a spontaneous embrace refuting the dark forces of war and violence.
Imagine the enduring impact of such a precious moment of respect and tolerance flooding the global press, its simple eloquence powerfully countering the global jihad against civilized humanity.
But it was not to be. None of these great moments were allowed to blossom.
All because we sent our lawyer.