President Donald J. Trump will welcome French President Emmanuel Macron sometime this spring for the first state dinner of his presidency. Both men were elected president as outsiders with minimal governmental experience.
The two leaders have not had a warm relationship in their few encounters since their presidential elections. When Mr. Trump announced plans to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord to which Mr. Macron mocked the American president’s pledge to “make America great again” by inviting American scientists that are studying climate change to come to France and help “make our planet great again.”
Before a NATO summit in Brussels, the French ambassador to Washington warned Mr. Macron that the U.S. president was a “domineering hand-shaker” intent on showing who is boss in a mano a mano encounter. Forewarned, the French president grasped his American counterpart’s hand in such a white-knuckle grip that Mr. Trump had to wrestle to get free.
The intense handshake came after the two had traded various insults from across the Atlantic. Mr. Trump accused the French president of being weak on terrorism while he chided his American counterpart for his policies toward the Iran Nuclear Agreement and other foreign policy issues.
But these substantive disagreements were nothing compared to the Francophile reaction of Mr. Trump to the Bastille Day parade to which Mr. Macron invited him last July. Mr. Trump was so impressed with the grandeur surrounding the event, including the lavish parade that marched down the Champs Elysée accompanied by air force jets streaming overhead, that he spoke about staging a similar one in Washington next July 4th.
Mr. Macron seems to have found the secret to establishing a cordial relationship with Mr. Trump: Put on a spectacular show. Presumably, the state dinner will be such an event. The teetotaler in the White House reportedly drinks up to twelve cans of Diet Coke a day and has a fondness for McDonald cheeseburgers. Perhaps that is why he has avoided state dinners since his inauguration. It will be interesting to see if French culinary delicacies and vintage French wines will be on the menu for the state dinner when it is released.
In the wake of Brexit, the French president has been positioning himself as the presumptive co-leader of a reinvigorated European Union. Fifty five years ago French president Charles de Gaulle worked with (West) German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer to form what they hoped would be a partnership between these two historic adversaries to jointly supervise the precursor to the European Union, which Britain had declined to join.
Today, Mr. Macron seems intent on reestablishing that bilateral partnership now that Britain, which finally joined Europe in 1973, is out again. If German Chancellor Angela Merkel eventually succeeds in cobbling together a working coalition in Berlin, Germany and France could take up the reins of power across the Atlantic in light of what many observers have seen as the disengagement of the United States from Europe. A revivified European Union (with France and Germany its two dominant members) could fill the vacuum created by the disengagement of the U.S. under Mr. Trump from the affairs of Europe.
The American president has walked back some of his provocative statements during the presidential campaign to demand the European members of NATO shoulder their fair share in the burden of the Atlantic alliance. But he has made it clear that he expects America’s transatlantic allies to stop depending on American taxpayers and American soldiers to guarantee their defense.
The pressure will be on Mr. Macron and Ms. Merkel, as well as the other European members of NATO, to find ways to create a security system apart from the Old Continent from the United States. The Europeans have tried in vain to create such a security system since the failure of the European Defense Community in 1954.
If German and French leaders can find a way to succeed where their predecessors have failed in this effort, we may witness the gradual emergence in the U.S. of a policy of “America First” in the original meaning of that term in the years before American’s entry into World War II: let countries across the Atlantic deal with their own problems.