After Attack, Obama Should've Skipped Game

| by Nik Bonopartis
President Barack ObamaPresident Barack Obama

The images provided a sharp contrast.

On March 22, in the aftermath of the worst terrorist attack in Belgium's history, news feeds showed the ruins of an airport terminal and numb bystanders, shocked by their close brush with death. Cameras settled on victims who weren't so lucky, faces caked with blood, clothes shredded by the blasts. Surveillance feeds from Maalbeek metro station, the second site of the day's coordinated attacks, captured the wreckage of a subway car, and police helping shaken passengers step down onto a hazy, smoke-filled platform.

Meanwhile, in Havana, a smiling President Barack Obama sat next to Cuban President Raul Castro, taking in an exhibition baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban National Team.

Critics pounced.

“President Obama should be back in America keeping this country safe," Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said, per ABC News. "Or president Obama should be planning to travel to Brussels."

In truth, there wasn't much Obama could do. Maybe Cruz wanted the president to don a cape and fly to Brussels, a la South Park's Captain Hindsight, touching down with his sidekicks Woulda, Coulda and Shoulda. Maybe Obama could have rattled off a list of things the Belgians did wrong, giving terrorists an opening to kill 31 people and injure more than 300 others. Then he could have given a saccharine speech comprised of the things people usually say after tragedies, and flown home.

But even in the best of times, presidential visits requires weeks or months of planning. They require advance teams of Secret Service agents working with their foreign counterparts on security plans, police deployed in force along travel routes and cooperation from the host country's diplomats.

With Belgian investigators fully committed to the task of following leads and hunting down terrorists, the clock ticking and suspects trying to slip out of the country, a visit of that magnitude is the last thing Belgium needs. An American presidential visit would shut down the city of Brussels. It would impede the ongoing investigation and distract Belgian authorities at a time they really can't afford it.

Cruz knows that. His finger-wagging press conference from Capitol Hill was bluster, not much different than the dung that usually falls out of his mouth. It was meant to score points with Republican voters.

He's right about one thing, though. It doesn't look good when Americans and others see the leader of the free world doing the wave at a baseball game while one of Europe's oldest cities burns.

Obama addressed the Belgium attacks at a press conference in Havana before the baseball game. He said what was expected - that the U.S. stands with Belgium against terror - but also struck a note similar to what former President George W. Bush said after 9/11 when he urged Americans to return to their normal routines.

"The whole premise of terrorism is to try to disrupt people's ordinary lives," Obama said, per the White House. "And one of my most powerful memories and one of my proudest moments as President was watching Boston respond after the marathon. ... That is the kind of resilience and the kind of strength that we have to continually show in the face of these terrorists."

The White House also released photos of Obama and National Security Advisor Susan Rice speaking to Homeland Security officials from a bunker-like communications room inside the U.S. Chief of Mission residence in Havana. Vice President Joe Biden visited the Belgian embassy in Washington, D.C., and Secretary of State John Kerry reached out to his counterpart in Belgium to offer condolences and support.

There are always going to be naysayers and people repurposing tragedies to score political points. Some of the Republican critics on Belgium were the same people who defended former President George W. Bush when he sat in a kindergarten class, reading a book to children while waiting for a sitrep on 9/11.

But there's truth to the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words, and Americans want to know their leaders have their sleeves rolled up in times of danger. If there's a next time in the few remaining months of his presidency, Obama should leave someone lower on the totem poll to represent him in public, and head back to the White House.

Sources: ABC News, The White House, ESPN / Photo credit: White House