Donald Trump’s trip to France to honor the 100th anniversary of World War I was not a success. In fact, as we discussed yesterday, the American president seemed to go out of his way to pick a fight before the international gathering even began in earnest, publishing a tweet on Friday accusing French President Emmanuel Macron of suggesting “that Europe build its own military in order to protect itself from the U.S., China and Russia.”
Macron’s remarks, Trump added, were “very insulting.”
This morning, the Republican took steps to keep the fight going with this tweet.
“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!”
Trump soon followed with a series of related tweets, slamming France on trade and criticizing Macron’s approval rating. For reasons that I won’t even try to explain, the Republican wrapped up his little tantrum by declaring, in an all-caps missive, “Make France Great Again!”
Let’s note for context that France today is recognizing the three-year anniversary of an ISIS terrorist attack in Paris that killed 130 people. Whether or not the American president is aware of this is unclear, but Trump picked an unusually ill-timed day to squabble with our French friends.
While it’s generally wise to look past Trump’s borderline-incoherent tweets, when an American president tries to initiate a feud with one of the United States’ closest allies, it’s worth taking a moment to understand why.
As is often the case, the root problem appears to be Trump’s confusion. Macron did not, in fact, call for a European military force to protect the continent against the United States. Since the United States has no enemies in Europe, this wouldn’t make sense.
The Washington Post explained what the French president actually said.
Trump’s interpretation of Macron’s remarks is factually misleading, and comes from an interview Macron gave to France’s Europe 1 radio several days before Trump’s arrival. What Macron said has been largely echoed by European Union leaders for months now, and in fact mimics the same demand Trump has long made: Europe needs to stop relying on the United States for its own defense.
“I believe in the project of a sovereign Europe. We won’t protect Europe if we don’t decide to have a true European army. 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,” Macron told Europe 1.
“We have to have a Europe that can defend itself alone — and without only relying on the United States — in a more sovereign manner,” he added.
These comments, which Trump should agree with, are apparently the basis for the Republican’s incessant whining. Macron stressed the importance of European self-reliance; Trump thought it was an anti-American posture; and the result was a series of misguided tweets.
Here’s my question: is there no one at the White House who explained reality to the president, or did Trump simply not understand his latest foreign policy briefing?