Sunday, May 20 , 2018, 5:29 am | Fair 56º


Jamie Stiehm: In Wake of Paris Terror, Obama Seems At Sea

“​Ich bin ein Berliner.” — President John F. Kennedy in West Berlin, 1963, to a cheering multitude.

Given the terror in Paris, it was a bad week for the American president to be away in the Philippines and on other foreign travel.

For the soaring rhetoric that comes so easily to President Barack Obama went AWOL when ISIS, the terrorist force rising in Syria and Iraq, struck France.

How simple to say something in French, to make “tout le monde” (all the world) feel we are with them.

When the heart of Paris takes nearly 500 civilian casualties — including young people out on a Friday evening — our head of state must be the mirror of our collective horror, grief and outrage.

President Bill Clinton wept when Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered and led a huge bipartisan delegation on Air Force One to attend the funeral. That’s on a scale seldom seen.

Cerebral Obama is more “contained” than he claimed ISIS was just hours before the outbreak of terror. But you tell me, was he meeting the moment well?

Speaking on the militant attacks, Obama appeared uncharacteristically cross, off-guard and annoyed at the question of changing the modest Syrian refugee policy.

The current plan is to take in about 10,000 Syrians fleeing violence in their country, at which Republican governors, presidential candidates and some senators are balking.

Obama accused Republican critics of being afraid of “widows and orphans” seeking shelter on our shores. At a summit in Turkey, he stated nothing would get better if he were “just more bellicose.” He even suggested the only thing some were doing is “talking as if they’re tough.”

War-weary Obama, who opposes the call for ground forces as futile, is counting the days left before Election Day 2016. (Less than 365!)

I’m all for the president speaking freely from the bully pulpit to articulate his core beliefs in his last year in office. To his credit, Obama gave voice last week to why we, a nation of immigrants, can’t shut down what the Statue of Liberty symbolizes: a welcome to poor and oppressed peoples.

“Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values,” Obama said overseas.

In the Capitol, however, I can say some of Obama’s comments abroad fell flat at home.

Senate Republicans, even the few who wish him well, strongly feel the vetting process refugees will go through needs to be explained more fully to lawmakers. The concern is that a cell of terrorists might “present” as refugees to come into the United States.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said it was no time to “browbeat” or talk down to Republicans, the majority party in the Senate. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., agrees with Republican colleagues that a “pause” in the Syrian refugee plan is warranted.

But there is no reason this debate can’t wait to be conducted here. Timing is everything, and right now the focus is on France, not us. Swift and sure in resolve, France clearly doesn’t need our help in waging war; even FBI agents sent to Paris are not in the thick of the investigation.

Although Obama was traveling in Turkey and Asia and couldn’t physically be in Paris, the brilliant orator among us could have been sending bouquets of roses and a profusion of sympathy and solidarity to brokenhearted France.

Among friends — and the French are our oldest friends, since the Revolutionary War — character counts in a crisis. Never more so than when there is a searing death in the family. Deaths out of time and season, I might add.

Among the victims, nobody was planning to die that day in the City of Light, plunged into darkness.

In the Folger Theatre, two blocks from the Capitol, the Shakespearean play Pericles opened as the lantern burned. In his famed funeral oration, the Athenian leader Pericles spoke straight to Obama’s message: “We throw open our city to the world, and never by alien acts exclude foreigners from any opportunity of learning or observing, although the eyes of an enemy may occasionally profit by our liberality.”

Kennedy in Berlin. Pericles in Athens. Obama, missing his moment.

Jamie Stiehm writes about politics, culture and history as a weekly Creators Syndicate columnist and regular contributor to U.S. News & World Report, The New York Times and The Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter: @jamiestiehm. The opinions expressed are her own.

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