The date on which French President Emmanuel Macron delivered a speech before the U.S. Congress is no accident. It was also on an April 25, but in 1960, when President Charles de Gaulle addressed senators and representatives. Other French heads of state, in fact, all of them except François Hollande, have gathered their thoughts before Congress in Washington, but the fact that the date of Macron’s speech matches that of the general proves the return to a more classical form of French external politics, one which is more open to talking with every country despite ideological or strategic differences.
Good relations between France and the U.S. are as old as their respective revolutions, the American and the French, however, they have had their ups and downs throughout the years without ceasing to be allies. De Gaulle himself sought military and diplomatic independence in the midst of the Cold War with the creation of the “Force de frappe,” its own nuclear deterrence force, and with the withdrawal of their troops from NATO’s military structure.
The Falling Out over Iraq
The Iraq War (2003) caused a deep falling out. France objected to the invasion, and, in a famous speech at the United Nations, Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin argued strongly for nonintervention. Then-President Jacques Chirac kept his distance with that neoconservative U.S. administration, which turned the Middle East into a greater tinderbox than it already was.
Macron wishes to be the current administration’s privileged European ally and has free rein to become that. As much as Theresa May was the first leader to visit the White House in the Trump era in order to strengthen the historic relationship between the United Kingdom and the U.S., the president has no interest in losers and the U.K is a country in decline, embroiled as it is in Brexit. There is also a lack of any good chemistry with Angela Merkel, unless the chancellor’s upcoming visit to Washington proves otherwise.
Macron’s state visit to Washington has presented an outpouring of excellent understanding between the presidents, expressed by the numerous kisses, hugs and pats on the back delivered by both. But behind the displays of affection, disagreements remain. The French president, despite presenting a much broader version of the nuclear treaty with Iran, failed to halt Trump’s willingness to put an end to it, something which has gained a greater semblance of reality with the newly-appointed national security advisor, the “hawk” John Bolton. Before Congress, Macron strongly defended multilateralism, and heavily criticized isolationism and nationalism, but his American counterpart was not there to hear him.
Will Macron be to Trump what Tony Blair was for George W. Bush, his lapdog? European intelligence analysts posed the question, and it is not at all an idle one. The defining moment of this potential relationship was when Trump ostentatiously brushed off a speck of dandruff from Macron’s blazer with the words: “We have to make him perfect — he is perfect.” Perfect for what and for whom?
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