Donald Trump was already in bad spirits when he embarked for France, where world leaders gathered over the weekend to commemorate Armistice Day.
Stinging from his party’s failure to hold the House in the midterms, under siege from the media after a wild post-election press conference that found the President embroiled in some of the most heated exchanges with reporters to date, and under enormous scrutiny for the controversial decision to replace his Attorney General with a man known for publicly deriding Robert Mueller and Hillary Clinton, Trump was met in Paris by one of the sharpest rebukes of his administration’s foreign policy yet.
“Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism, nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism,” Emmanuel Macron said, in a speech marking the 100-year anniversary of the end of World War I. “In saying ‘our interests first and who cares about the others,’ we erase what a nation has that’s most precious, what makes it live, what is most important: its moral values”, he continued. Here’s the clip:
It was a direct shot at Trump on the biggest stage and the U.S. President was powerless to respond, given the circumstances. Late last month, at a rally in Texas, Trump openly touted his nationalist tendencies as follows:
You know, they have a word – it’s sort of became old-fashioned – it’s called a nationalist. And I say, really, we’re not supposed to use that word. You know what I am? I’m a nationalist, okay? I’m a nationalist. Nationalist. Nothing wrong. Use that word. Use that word.
Earlier this week, during the press conference mentioned above, Trump called PBS’s Yamiche Alcindor (who is black) a “racist” for asking whether his comments in Texas were emboldening white nationalists in America.
At a separate event at the opening of the Paris Peace Forum, Angela Merkel echoed Macron in warning against the erosion of the multilateral institutions that have safeguarded Western democracies for decades. “You can destroy institutions quickly, but rebuilding them is unbelievably difficult”, Merkel said of the U.N.
Trump did not attend that event.
There was no formal meeting between Putin and Trump, but there was this highly amusing hand shake and thumbs up:
Trump’s visit was also marred by protests. As his motorcade made its way up Champs-Elysees, he was greeted by a topless woman from FEMEN, on whose chest was inscribed: “Fake Peacemaker.” FEMEN was most assuredly not amused with the collection of leaders on display. Here are some excerpts from their statement:
FEMEN believes that restoring world peace with those who are responsible for the ongoing wars is hypocritical. How could they work for peace? Does Trump work for peace when he flouts international treaties? No ! Is Putin working for peace in Syria when he defends dictator Bashar Al-Assad? No ! Does Erdogan work for peace when he’s perpetuating Armenian Genocide denial? Or when he keeps attacking Kurdish people? No ! Does Bin Salman work for peace when he’s assassinating Jamal Khashoggi? No ! Does Netanyahu work for peace when bombing Gaza? No !
Meanwhile, at the Place de la Republique, protesters rolled out the famous Trump baby balloon. Hundreds attended the spectacle.
To be sure, Trump was girding for a contentious trip. Just prior to his arrival, he lambasted Macron on Twitter after the French President (again) suggested that Europe may need to build its own army in order to ensure its safety. His comments came in the context of Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the INF treaty.
“We have to protect ourselves with respect to China, Russia and even the United States of America,” Macron told France’s Europe 1 radio, adding the following:
When I see President Trump announcing that he’s quitting a major disarmament treaty which was formed after the 1980s Euro-missile crisis that hit Europe, who is the main victim? Europe and its security. We will not protect the Europeans unless we decide to have a true European army.
Trump responded, calling Macron’s remarks “very insulting”. He also repeated his contention that Europe doesn’t “pay its fair share of NATO”, rekindling worries about Washington’s commitment to the alliance just four months after the last scare.
All in all, this was a bad trip for Trump and further underscored just how isolated the U.S. has become on the world stage.
Trump’s America is literally at odds with almost everyone, from France to Germany to Turkey to Iran to China. From a purely strategic perspective, that’s not great for the administration as the U.S. attempts to marshal support for its hardline stance towards Beijing on trade and Iran on oil.