Are President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron headed for a Trans-Atlantic breakup?
After Trump’s rocky and controversial visit to Paris, which included some less-than-warm body language toward his younger French counterpart, the unlikely bromance appears to have hit choppy waters. Many U.S. lawmakers — Republican and Democrat — have warned Trump to avoid alienating close allies and want him to end a nasty trade flap with the EU.
And, in a new twist delivered via a Tuesday morning tweet, Trump appears to be defending Russian President Vladimir Putin over his one time favorite ally — even as Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III continues his investigation of Russia’s 2016 election meddling and possible coordination with Trump’s campaign.
The first signs of a fraying in the Trump-Macron alliance came Friday afternoon as Air Force One was preparing to land in Paris for Armistice Day commemoration ceremonies. Trump fired off a tweet criticizing Macron for allegedly saying Europe should “build its own military in order to protect itself from the U.S., China and Russia,” which Trump dubbed “Very insulting.” He said “Europe should first pay its fair share of NATO, which the U.S. subsidizes greatly!”
President Macron of France has just suggested that Europe build its own military in order to protect itself from the U.S., China and Russia. Very insulting, but perhaps Europe should first pay its fair share of NATO, which the U.S. subsidizes greatly!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 9, 2018
Only that’s not quite what the French leader said. Macron last week had told Europe 1 radio that a truly “sovereign Europe” would not be able to “protect Europe if we don’t decide to have a true European army.”
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“In front of Russia, which is at our borders and which can be threatening, I would like to start a security dialogue with Russia, which is a country I respect and which is European,” he said. “We have to have a Europe that can defend itself alone — and without only relying on the United States — in a more sovereign manner.”
Other European leaders have echoed that sentiment in recent months, but something about it struck a nerve in Trump, who has slammed France and other countries on the Old Continent since announcing his presidential bid in 2015 for not paying their fair share into NATO’s coffers while America pays a disproportionate amount.
During part of a one-on-one meeting Saturday with Macron, Trump appeared annoyed, wearing a frown and appearing to disagree with points the Frenchman made when reporters were allowed in for a few minutes. Then Trump canceled a Saturday visit to an American cemetery near where nearly 2,000 U.S. soldiers died in World War I that was part of Macron’s plans for the weekend. And when Macron on Sunday had world leaders arrive together and walk to an Armistice ceremony at Paris’ Arc de Triomphe, Trump arrived solo. A few minutes later, so did Putin.
On Tuesday morning, back at the White House where he spent most of Monday holed up in the residence, Trump went after Macron again — this time with a mocking history lesson and what seemed like a lecture. Notably, the U.S. president seems to think Europeans have overcooked their fears that Russia is a threat.
“Emmanuel Macron suggests building its own army to protect Europe against the U.S., China and Russia,” Trump wrote. “But it was Germany in World Wars One & Two — How did that work out for France? They were starting to learn German in Paris before the U.S. came along.”
The unique messaging of this presidency continued with that tweet. U.S. presidents of both parties have described defeating Adolf Hitler’s Germany as something America and Europeans — and Russia — did together rather than something America did mostly on its own. The rhetoric is part of the reason Trump received a muted response from many European leaders on the weekend trip.
“Pay for NATO or not!” Trump demanded in his tweet, appearing to offer Europeans an exit plan to start their own U.S.-excluding military alliance.
Emmanuel Macron suggests building its own army to protect Europe against the U.S., China and Russia. But it was Germany in World Wars One & Two - How did that work out for France? They were starting to learn German in Paris before the U.S. came along. Pay for NATO or not!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 13, 2018
The president wasn't done, later firing off a tweet slamming France’s government for what he described as its unfair policies that make it tough for U.S. companies to sell win there.
On Trade, France makes excellent wine, but so does the U.S. The problem is that France makes it very hard for the U.S. to sell its wines into France, and charges big Tariffs, whereas the U.S. makes it easy for French wines, and charges very small Tariffs. Not fair, must change!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 13, 2018
Trump also seems agitated by a speech Macron gave during the weekend festivities in which he took a clear shot at Trump’s self-description as a “nationalist.” The French leader called nationalism a “betrayal of patriotism.”
But Trump continued on Tuesday morning, blaming the tiff on Macron’s approval ratings at home and saying nationalism is alive and well — in France. He used a spin on his “Make America Great Again” to apparently describe the French mindset — as he sees it.
The problem is that Emmanuel suffers from a very low Approval Rating in France, 26%, and an unemployment rate of almost 10%. He was just trying to get onto another subject. By the way, there is no country more Nationalist than France, very proud people-and rightfully so!........— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 13, 2018
......MAKE FRANCE GREAT AGAIN!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 13, 2018
The barb-trading comes after Macron’s official visit to the United States in April, when Trump feted him for several days and lavished praise on the young Frenchman. But those days, at least for now, appear long gone.