- David A. Andelman: Trump’s visit to France on Bastille Day is taking on dual significance
- While it will celebrate historically strong relationship between the nations, it also will draw attention to current tensions
This year it has a double significance — a celebration by the French of all America has done through the years to preserve French democracy and the cloud of some profound issues that have threatened to undermine the brief relationship of Trump and Macron. From climate change to Qatar, Damascus to Moscow, there will be no shortage of wounds to bind or fester.
It was 100 years ago this month that the first 14,000 “Doughboys” landed on the south coast of Brittany — the vanguard of what would be 1 million American men and women, the largest military deployment America had ever seen abroad until that point. Under the leadership of the redoubtable Gen. “Black Jack” Pershing, they would turn the tide against the Germans and win World War I for the side of democracy. The French have never forgotten this demonstration of loyalty.
Not only symbols and atmospherics, but politics and diplomacy as well — indeed, the entire future of American-European relations — will be at play as Trump and his 39-year-old host mount the viewing stand at the Place de la Concorde.
The subtext, however, may be lost on Trump. In reality, this visit is yet another brick placed quite craftily in the edifice of French leadership of Europe, even the world, that Macron has been quietly, skilfully building. Here’s the French President sitting proudly in the central position of power, the military forces he commands pirouetting deftly before him and screaming overhead in the skies. And then there’s the apparent acolyte, Trump, at his feet (or elbow depending on where the Elysees protocol folks put him on the dais).
That all cuts close to the bone here as Macron served as a minister in the Socialist government of his predecessor Francois Hollande, who spearheaded the entire climate treaty effort. Indeed, Macron has already in a single breath denounced and mocked Trump’s stand on climate control, borrowing a campaign Trumpism to proclaim that it was essential to find a way to “Make our planet great again.”
But there are several even more immediate and contentious issues revolving around centerpieces of the Trump agenda.
Syria is on both nations’ radar. Here, Trump has a unique opportunity to right a wrong, erasing a bitter legacy of President Barack Obama when he left Hollande out to dry behind a red line the Americans had drawn. After Obama pledged swift and sure justice in the form of military retaliation if Syria used chemical weapons against their people, Hollande, at some political cost, had assured Obama he was solidly behind him. But Obama failed to pull the trigger, stepping back from the brink, forcing the French into an unwelcome position of climbing down as well. Trump is in a position to assure Macron this will not happen again.
Finally, if Trump thinks a quick trip to review some French troops and a lavish dinner the evening before will be a distraction from his troubles with opponents — foreign and domestic — he should be reading the French press more carefully. Within moments after the visit was announced in Washington and Paris, one of Macron’s primary opponents, Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of the left-wing party La France Insoumise (France Unbowed), observed that “Mr. Trump is not at all welcome at our celebration of the 14th of July. This holiday celebrates French freedom. Mr. Trump is a violent person and should have nothing to do with that.”
Still, Trump will be able to get a sense of the grandeur that is France today, with a vast array of troops from the farthest corners of the French empire. Hopefully he will begin to appreciate what a staunch and loyal ally the United States has here — one among many in Europe and beyond.
Above all, he will hear the stirring French national anthem, “La Marseillaise,” quite a lot, and should pay special attention to the words, which include among many others (in English translation so they might sink in):
The shame of all good men….
Against you we are all soldiers.