Sunday 21 October 2018

Macron shows Trump his iron fist in a velvet glove

President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron embrace at the conclusion of a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, earlier this week. 24, 2018. Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP
President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron embrace at the conclusion of a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, earlier this week. 24, 2018. Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP

Anne Applebaum

After 15 months in the White House, it has become clear there is no correct way for American allies to deal with President Donald Trump. And pretty much every tactic has been tried.

Shinzo Abe, the prime minister of Japan, sped down to Mar-a-Lago soon after the election, where he played a round of golf.

Unfortunately, it didn't win him any special consideration when Trump announced sweeping aluminium and steel tariffs earlier this year, nor did it prevent the president from embarrassing him with inopportune tweets.

British Prime Minister Theresa May also rushed to Washington to play nice and call for a "special relationship" just after the election, but she too has been attacked directly on the president's Twitter feed; worse, her performance at the White House - including a photograph holding the president's hand - has been regularly mocked by her compatriots ever since.

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor - too earnest and probably too horrified even to attempt to charm the American president - set out to woo his daughter. She invited Ivanka Trump to a panel discussion alongside herself and several other distinguished female politicians; the result was that Ivanka appeared foolish and out of place.

Unable to keep up pretences, the prime minister of Australia squabbled with Trump, who was having trouble understanding his immigration policy.

That phone call ended badly. "I have been making these calls all day," said the American president, "and this is the most unpleasant call all day. Putin was a pleasant call. This is ridiculous."

The president of Mexico cancelled a visit, and now raises his popularity ratings by openly criticising the American counterpart, as do most other politicians in Mexico.

Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, has tried something more complicated.

Apparently on a whim - he didn't believe the invitation would be accepted - he invited Trump and his first lady last year to a lavish celebration of Bastille Day.

He has been rewarded with a full state dinner, plus lots of other honours, including more hand-holding, even laughing off a classic Trump dominance gesture: an attempt to brush dandruff off his suit.

Yet instead of following this obsequious behaviour with an obsequious request, Macron made a speech, with flattering language and lavish references to American history, directly attacking the world view of Trump.

He called for greater efforts on climate change - because "there is no planet B" - as well as "a more effective, accountable, and results-oriented multilateralism".

Macron wasn't even subtle in his attack on Trump's backward-looking nostalgia and xenophobic language: "We can choose isolationism, withdrawal and nationalism . . . but that will only inflame the fears of our citizens."

And, of course, he supported the Iran deal, which Trump has railed against this week.

Flattery plus direct talk hasn't yet been tried on Trump.

But the most likely result is the American president won't pay attention to what Macron was trying to say - indeed, he won't even understand he has been challenged.

Macron's speech preserves the French president's dignity in the face of the dandruff incident. It preserves Europe's aspiration for an alliance with the America. It keeps the idea of transatlanticism alive.

And if the American president can't hear any of that, maybe, given the circumstances, that's OK, too. (© Washington Post)

Irish Independent

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