As a former diplomat, I am trained to hold back airing a position prematurely, even if emotionally tempted to scream in rage. We are accustomed to taking a second and third look, wait and see, explore the facts. I was tempted to scream on Sunday, the minute I noticed the incredible and painful absence of the US President from the row of world leaders as Paris was getting ready for the largest ever demonstration for freedom, democracy, and free speech, since the 1789 revolution. I waited two days, I have explored the facts. There is no explanation.
This was a terrible foreign policy and public affairs mistake and unfortunately lends credence to critics whom I have been fighting for the last five years, who have been saying all along that Obama does not understand and does not care about Europe.
The first comments and explanations by the administration just made things worse. It is good that the White House has now apologized (I want to think the White House spokesman's statements amount to that). I remember the gratitude from Americans after 9/11 for the European expression of solidarity. Their spirit was down, and when millions of Europeans held up signs saying "I am an American," millions of Americans felt less abandoned. Symbolism matters, symbolism in a time of war matters a lot more. This is a lost opportunity for America. Charlie was missing from the White House.
The reluctant and slow reactions, the hesitation, indeed the refusal in Washington to call this a terrorist attack by radical Islam hurt. Not mentioning anti-Semitism is certainly inexplicable. Europeans did not feel the warm embrace of America, in a moment of grief and emotional need.
Sunday's march was Europe's grown up moment. It was an amazing show of solidarity amid the atmosphere of fear and anticipation of, unfortunately, more of the same to come in the next months and years. A French friend wrote in an email "this was pretty amateurish -- we have reason to fear that the next one will be a lot worse." Europeans know this and they are scrambling to make sense of what happened, how to brace for the next attack and most importantly how to develop ideas and policies that will pull the rug from under the feet of radical Islam. In this they need all the help they can get, including from their number one ally, the United States.
It was encouraging to see that almost without exception, Europe's leaders responded with moderation, rejecting radical xenophobic ideas, suggesting that Christians, Jews and moderate Muslims need to be part of the solution. This think tank has been suggesting for a long time that the best way to confront extremism is the Norwegian way. Their response to the homegrown terrorist attack in 2011, which left 77 people dead, most of them young people, was more democracy not less, a call for more tolerance not less. It was heartwarming to see a man waving a huge Norwegian flag in Paris on Sunday.
The only sorry voice in Europe was that of Hungarian strongman and self-proclaimed leader of the illiberal movement in Europe, Prime Minister Viktor Orban. He was true to himself. Upon leaving the march, he made a statement saying that letting in foreigners and refugees is wrong. He suggested that acceptance and tolerance was the root cause of the problem and in essence suggesting that Western-Europe asked for the attack. Hungary is a mesh of nationalities: any "Hungarian" would have inherited genes from German, Serbian, Romanian, Turkish, Slovak or Jewish ancestors. Hungary's strength is diversity. It has always been a host nation. He is dead wrong, as are those who will look for answers in extremism, racism, authoritarianism.
The threats against our modern, multicultural and diverse societies, whether in America, Europe or Australia, are almost identical. When freedom of speech is under threat, then all that we stand for, all the underpinnings of our way of life, our future is under threat. It is now the moment when we use all the tools in our power toolbox in close coordination, hard-power when necessary; soft-power when that serves us better. However there is no escaping the fact: we are in it together. We are one family, and now that one of ours was hurt badly, we need to hold hands fight back and let the world know that we will not surrender. Shadowy figures will continue to push their luck, will challenge us when our emotional chips are down. They are wrong to underestimate our will-power, our perseverance.
One blunder and political mistake by a US president will not dissuade us from remaining Atlanticists. This is a principle which will endure and survive even worse moments. The attack on Charlie Hebdo, the attack on the Hyper Kacher call for an even stronger determination for Europe and America to put their differences aside and let the world know that for this family there is no more important cause in life than freedom and democracy.