French President Emmanuel Macron, addressing a joint meeting of Congress, denounced the wave of nationalistic fervor that helped Donald Trump capture the White House and urged U.S. lawmakers to seek a new and broader deal with Iran.
After spending a day and a half with Trump and first lady Melania Trump that included private meals, cheek kisses, hand-holding and backslapping, the French president broke with his political alter ego on several issues.
His hour-long speech highlighted matters on which he and Trump — as well as many congressional Republicans — agree but also brought into stark relief the issues on which there is ample daylight between them.
Despite their differences on matters like global trade, America’s retreat from global affairs and the fate of the Iran nuclear accord, the French president delivered a forceful — and at times ominous — plea for the United States and his country to preserve a fraying 20th-century world they helped construct while building one for the 21st century before other powers, including “criminal states,” beat them to the punch.
Macron to Congress: Embrace Global Role, Reject ‘Fake News’ and Stay in Iran Deal
“Our strongest values are challenged by a new world order. … We elected officials share the responsibility to demonstrate that democracy remains the best answer to the questions and doubts … of today,” Macron said. “We must stand firmly and fight to make our principles prevail.”
Macron, who campaigned on a more globalist platform than did Trump, reiterated views he delivered to senior European Union officials before heading to Washington.
He said he sees the world at a crossroads, with “two possible ways ahead.” One is “nationalism,” and the other is a new multinationalism. Macron warned against countries turning inward in what amounted to a rebuke of Trump’s “America first” governing philosophy.
“Closing the door to the world will not stop the evolution of the world,” Macron said, urging the U.S. House and Senate members not to let “nationalism overcome the hopes for greater prosperity.”
In an ominous prediction, he said international institutions like the United Nations and NATO could soon become irrelevant if the 20th-century order collapses as the nationalistic wave that has swept across Europe and the United States becomes more powerful.
U.S. and French leaders, as well as their allies, must act quickly to “write our own history and birth the future we want,” he said.
“The United States was the one who invented this multilateralism,” he added, in a rhetorical tug at lawmakers’ patriotism.
His assessment of the nationalistic fervor on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean came after Trump on Tuesday evening, at a White House state dinner, said attendees were there to “celebrate nearly two-and-a-half centuries of friendship between the United States and France.”
The French president and other European leaders have warned Trump against the steel and aluminum tariffs he has proposed, and pleaded with him to avoid a potential trade war with China that those possible import penalties might spawn. U.S. Republican and Democratic lawmakers have done the same.
From the well of the House chamber, Macron warned Congress of the consequences of a global trade war, saying the U.S. and French middle classes “will have to pay for it.” Though he did not name him, he brushed Trump back, saying trade disputes should be worked out through the World Trade Organization.
“We wrote these rules,” he said of decades-old global trade rules. “We should follow them.”
A day after standing beside his U.S. counterpart at a White House joint press conference and announcing his intention to seek a new deal with Iran over its nuclear arms programs that would also address other matters about which the U.S., France and other world powers are concerned, he delivered the same pitch to Congress.
Macron called for a broader Iran nuclear deal that keeps the existing pact in place and adds new provisions designed to curtail Tehran’s missile program and crack down on its actions in the Middle East. “We should not abandon it without something substantial, and more substantial, instead. That’s my position,” he said. “That’s why France will not leave the JCPOA: Because we signed it.”
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker said he was pleased with the French president’s speech. On the Iran deal, the Tennessee Republican said he believes Macron’s biggest challenge will be convincing other leaders to nix or extend the existing pact’s sunset clause. Many of that accord’s restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities phase out over the next 10 to 15 years. “He mentioned 2025, but it’s just hard to tell” what might be possible in a new round of talks, Corker said.
But it was Macron’s warnings about nationalism and what he called its many dangers that consumed a hefty portion of his address.
Many in the United States and Europe are “living in a climate of anger and global fear,” he said, generated by forces like globalization.
“You can play with fears and anger for a time, but they do not construct anything,” he said, adding such anger “only weakens us.”
The young French leader often draws comparisons to one of America’s most youthful presidents, Barack Obama. But on Wednesday, he quoted former President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inaugural address to hammer home his point: “The only thing we have to fear, it is fear itself.”
His remarks reflected — despite the Trump-Macron “bromance” on display Monday and Tuesday — the unlikely bond he appears to share with the U.S. reality television star and businessman-turned-chief executive.
“At the time of [his] election, Macron was seen as the anti-Trump,” according to Jean Bricmont, a Belgian author who writes about European politics. “After all, the only politician supporting Trump then in France was [far-right presidential candidate] Marine Le Pen. He was internationalist, pro-European [and] sophisticated, while Trump was seen as vulgar and a narrow nationalist.”
Still, Macron delivered a sometimes forceful call for the longtime allies to grow even closer. He said the countries must answer “the call of history” because “what we treasure is at stake,” adding, “We have no choice but to prevail. And together, we shall prevail.”
He even used the term “very special relationship” to describe the U.S.-French alliance. The term was first coined in 1946 by Winston Churchill to describe America’s relationship with the United Kingdom.
Sen. Lindsey Graham said the remarks reminded him in part of Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain.
“In President Macron’s speech about preserving the post-World War II world order and rejecting the false promises of isolationism, I heard the voice of John McCain,” the South Carolina Republican said in a statement.
The address had some of the palace intrigue of a U.S. president’s annual state of the union address.
For instance, Democrats rose and cheered when he urged the United States to take serious action to address climate change and embrace a low-carbon economy. They did so again when Macron said he is “sure one day the United States will come back and join the Paris climate agreement.”
Republicans gave him loud ovations when he noted his country has been fighting alongside the United States against violent extremist groups in the Middle East and applauded the Trump administration’s effort to force North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.
“Democrats love President Macron because he talks about climate change and wants to keep the Iran nuclear deal,” said Jeff Lightfoot of the Atlantic Council. “And Republicans love him because he talks about how the French kick down doors and fight terrorists.”