Two weeks ago, there were three bomb incidents that have been reported to have been connected with terrorist groups. The attacks in Belgium and Iraq have been linked to ISIS (also referred to as ISIL or IS), while the Easter Sunday bombing in Pakistan is reported to have been done by the Taliban.
The Brussels attack was the first and most widely reported attack of the three in American media from two weeks ago. Piling on to his controversial trip to Cuba, President Obama found himself receiving even more criticism after the Brussels attack for the way he responded to the attack.
Obama had already been in Cuba for a couple days that week, meeting with Raul Castro, President of the Council State of Cuba. It was the first trip to Cuba by a sitting U.S. President since 1928. Whether one agrees or disagrees with Obama’s trip to Cuba, the trip in and of itself was an indisputably historic moment in international relations between the two countries.
On the morning of the attack, Obama and Castro had already planned to participate in watching an exhibition baseball game between the Cuban national team and the MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays. The baseball game being one of the trips’ last big moments, a moment Obama intended to be a ceremonial victory for relations between the two countries.
In other words, Obama was in the middle of a trip he considered to be an important initiative in final days of presidency, albeit with its fair share of criticism. And this trip was unexpectedly eclipsed by a terror attack in Belgium.
Terrorism at strikes unanticipated times. By its very nature, it is untimely and mostly unpredictable. In that sense, political leaders responding to terrorist incidents is not really an exact science. Diplomatic response to terrorist attacks are approached and handled differently on a case-by-case basis.
However, these considerations do not excuse the way Obama did choose to respond to the attack in Belgium while he was in Cuba.
Not knowing the attack would happen in Belgium that day, Obama had already planned to host a press conference in Cuba that morning for other reasons. After learning about the attack, Obama did include a statement about Brussels in that press conference and said he made a phone call to Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel earlier that morning to offer his condolences.
While at the baseball game later that day, Obama was interviewed by ESPN commentators during the game and was offered a chance to comment on the Brussels attack again. All this to say Obama did respond, indeed, in multiple venues.
But it wasn’t necessarily Obama’s words that sent a limp message to Americans and America’s allies in the fight against terrorism. It was his choice to continue his daily agenda mostly uninterrupted and seemingly unphased by the attack in Belgium that showed a lack of decorum. The juxtaposition of the two events – while Brussels burns, Obama enjoys a baseball game in the tropical breeze of Cuba – is a rather cruel one.
Just a few days later during Obama’s visit to Argentina, the aforementioned juxtaposition developed in way that apparently tipped the scales against Obama even more. Pictures began to circulate of Obama dancing a tango while in Argentina, a national pastime and cultural dance in the South American country. This came after the bombings in Iraq and Pakistan which each took even more lives than the attack in Belgium.
Granted, if there hadn’t been a terrorist attack, or three, for that matter, this picture of the tango probably would’ve been one that produced some laughs and a kind of comic relief for American daytime news. Like the baseball game, the dance was a kind of ceremonial joining of two countries – an intended positive moment.
But there were terrorist attacks. And this wasn’t a time for jokes and dancing.
People die every day around the world. Some may be asking, at what point does the president draw the line? Is he supposed to stop his trips and his schedule for every single killing?
To put it simply, of course not. But consider the significance of these attacks based on who was responsible for them. Two of the attacks were claimed acts of terror by ISIS, a group that Obama and the U.S. in general have placed massive focus on and directly addressed as a national security concern the U.S. will fight against.
Granted, the methods of which Congress and the president have proposed for dealing with ISIS do differ, but the acknowledgement of the existent of the threat it poses is not really a matter of dispute. In other words, Obama himself has said ISIS is a matter of concern that falls under his responsibility as commander in chief.
Therefore, these weren’t just some killings that happened and are inconsequential to the U.S. On the contrary, these were specific events done by certain groups of interest that warrant a better response from the president.