There are two reasons I won’t clamber aboard that reactionary train. The terrorist attacks did not happen in the United States and the Obama backlash is aggravating in its inconsistency.
Without question, had a Brussels-level assault happened on American soil, demanding that the president return to Washington would be a no-brainer. Despite the historic nature of Obama’s journey to the communist Caribbean island, an attack on the American people would require the president’s care and attention at home.
Now, when such tragedies have happened in the United States, the knee-jerk reaction is always that Obama must immediately jet to the scene and comfort the victims and the nation. Never mind the logistical and security nightmare such a visit so soon after a tragedy would unleash on local law enforcement consumed with investigating the tragedy.
For instance, this nutty knock on Obama happened last year right after the racist slaughter of nine African Americans in Charleston, S.C., on June 17 and the Islamic State-inspired slaughter of 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif., on Dec. 2. Considering this president has been consoler in chief for much of his tenure in the White House, there was never any doubt in my mind that he would tend to the victims and their families when the time was right and least disruptive. Thus, Obama held a private meeting with the victims’ families in San Bernardino on Dec. 18. And Obama’s June 26 eulogy of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the slain pastor of Charleston’s legendary Mother Emanuel AME Church, his oration on race and his singing “Amazing Grace” will go down as one of the most remarkable moments of his presidency and this nation’s history.
Obama was roundly criticized by Republicans and Democrats for his rather cool reaction to the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris. And he was upbraided by for not “standing by France” at a solidarity rally attended by 44 world leaders in Paris on Jan. 11. Conveniently forgotten was Obama’s visit two weeks after the attacks to the Bataclan concert hall, one of the sites of horror where 89 were murdered, with French President François Hollande. What makes the constant condemnation of Obama’s reactions to terrorist attacks so hard to take is the selective nature of the outrage. Not all terrorist attacks merit the same denunciations and demands for his presence. Heck, some are outright ignored.
One day before the coordinated attacks in Paris that left 130 dead and injured 368, Beirut was rocked by what was described as Lebanon’s “worst terrorist attack” in 2015. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the twin blasts that claimed at least 43 lives and wounded 239 others.
Five days after Paris, two suicide bombings in two separate cities in Nigeria killed at least 49 people and wounded more than 130 others. Responsibility for the attacks was claimed by Boko Haram, the notorious Nigerian Islamist extremist terrorist network that renamed itself “Islamic State’s West Africa Province” last April.
Exactly one week after Paris, al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists stormed the Radisson Blu Hotel in the capital of the African nation of Mali. They killed 20 people and held another 170 hostage before Malian commandos, with the help of U.S. and French special forces, routed the jihadists floor by floor.
Salah Abdeslam, the lone survivor of the Islamic State perpetrators of the slaughter in Paris, was arrested in Brussels on March 18. The next day, four were killed on Istanbul’s main pedestrian shopping street by a suicide bomber Turkish authorities say was a member of the Islamic State.
Where were the calls for Obama’s attention to and solidarity with Lebanon? Nigeria? Mali? What about Turkey? The nation that is the gateway of migrants fleeing the Syrian civil war by the millions is a NATO ally. A problematic one, but an ally nonetheless. Yet, nary a candle flickered nor a voice raised for a nation that has seen four terrorist attacks in 2016 already.
The person duly elected to sit in the Oval Office has the most demanding job on the planet. He (thus far) must be able to do several things at once and focus on myriad more. Most of the time, Obama gets it right. Yes, there have been times when he’s gotten it wrong. His reaction to Paris was not optimal. But the folks criticizing him have no leg to stand on. The silence greeting the carnage in places not Paris or Brussels by know-it-alls seeking to replace Obama makes their incessant criticism of the president as meaningless as their assertions that they could do better.