He came. He saw. He hugged it out. What a sad, impotent moment in international diplomacy we witnessed last Friday when US Secretary of State John Kerry finally made a very belated visit to Paris.
At a time when America’s oldest ally was reeling in the aftermath of a series of radical Islamist terror attacks, the best Kerry could do was turn up late with a promise of hugs and a twee song by James Taylor.
Such earnest ignorance. Hardly a ‘Lafayette, we are here’ moment for this generation – or any generation for that matter.
Now it’s the UK’s turn to feel the love.
John Kerry travels to London today to “consult with the UK and other counter-Islamic State coalition partners on our shared efforts to degrade and defeat IS,” according to State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki.
Kerry will also hold a bilateral discussion with Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond on the sidelines.
No word on James Taylor tagging along but, on the evidence, maybe we should be ready for a reprise of last week’s show at the Hotel de Ville in Paris where Kerry described the attacks as a “living nightmare” that would unite rather than divide the people of France and the world.
Take it away, John.
“I really wanted to come here and share a hug with all of Paris and all friends,” he told survivors, victims’ families and members of the police and municipal government who responded to the attacks.
“I wanted to express to you personally the sheer horror and revulsion of all Americans for the cowardly and despicable assault on innocent lives,” Kerry said.
His friend, musician James Taylor, then performed his “You’ve Got a Friend,” starting with several bars of the French national anthem.
The singalong was called an “Homage de John Kerry a Paris.”
I guess Kerry did make an effort. Of sorts. US President Barack Obama couldn’t even do that five days earlier when he declined the opportunity to march arm-in-arm with 40 other world leaders in a show of solidarity with France.
Instead Obama stayed in the White House to watch a game of football.
What a feeble contrast with previous leaders of the most powerful national on earth. They knew the fundamental truth in the maxim: you can’t lead if you don’t show up.
On June 23, 1963 John F Kennedy came to Europe at the height of the Cold War and delivered hope wrapped in a simple message: ‘Ich bin ein Berliner.’
The words were spoken as an offering of American solidarity to the citizens of West Germany.
In an impassioned speech, the president told them West Berlin was a symbol of freedom in a world threatened by the Cold War.
“Two thousand years ago,” he told the crowd, “the proudest boast in the world was ‘civis Romanus sum’.
“Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is ‘Ich bin ein Berliner.'”
“Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect,” he continued. “But we never had to put up a wall to keep our people in.”
It was a strong, defiant signal to the Soviet Union and effectively put paid to Moscow’s hopes of driving the Allies out of West Berlin.
Ditto Ronald Reagan some 24 years later. On June 12, 1987 he appealed to then Soviet Union General-Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”
The “wall” was the Berlin Wall — the physical barrier between West and East Germany, as well as the symbolic barrier between two political ideologies: democracy and communism.
Those presidents knew that when you are leader of the free world it helps to stand by your allies.
Today the battle is between democracy and terror. The former represented by western liberal ideas and the latter radical Islamic terrorism.
One is built on the solid Judeo/Christian ethic of tolerance and freedom of speech even if it does mean somebody, somewhere is going to have their feelings hurt.
The other believes in a religious absolute that all will bow down before Islam.
Under Barack Obama, America is a diminished player in world affairs, a country quite prepared to bow down because, in Obama’s own words, “the future does not belong to those who insult the prophet of Islam.”
Which explains why President Obama never talks about radical Islamic terrorism in the same way David Cameron does. He’d rather try and ignore it to death.
Obama’s solution to seemingly every crisis is to not want to cause upset and distress. He chooses empathy over action.
Apologise, mollify, placate, soothe and appease is always Obama’s first choice with enemies as opposed to standing up for the indivisible freedoms that once made America great.
Kerry has the chance to make amends both for America’s absence on the world stage and the toe-curling embarrassment of his own Paris trip today.
London will provide a global platform for the US’s most senior diplomat to re-state his nation’s commitment to fighting terror even when – especially when – it is on the doorstep of an an ally.
Then it will be Obama’s turn. Next month he will meet international lawmakers in Washington to “highlight domestic and international efforts to prevent violent extremists and their supporters from radicalizing, recruiting, or inspiring individuals or groups in the United States and abroad to commit acts of violence,” according to the White House. References to the violence in Paris, a hostage taking in Sydney and a deadly attack on the Canadian Parliament were mentioned specifically in a statement ahead of the conference.
Dubbed the “Summit on Countering Violent Extremism,” the meeting is meant to educate American leaders and their counterparts abroad on ways of integrating law enforcement, mental health and religious leaders to curb violent activity
Of course, government is not in the business of producing results. It is in the business of governance. That translates into more legislation, revising rules, setting up bureaucracies and archly watching over us.
That will all likely figure in any outcomes in Washington and expect to hear more about it in London today.
Just pray we don’t hear any more of James Taylor.