PARIS -- When U.S. President Donald Trump arrived here in France last weekend to join other world leaders in marking the centenary of the World War I armistice, he added to the petty drama that characterized the run-up to what should have been a solemn event.
The French air force took the first misstep with this tweet (translated from French): "T-7 days before the centenary of Armistice and the celebration of 100 years of Franco-German friendship."
Yes, with the exception of that little blip called World War II, during which Germany invaded France, it has indeed been wonderful. Critics used the ill-advised tweet as another example of the French establishment whitewashing history in order to shove European supranational governance (which is effectively Franco-German governance these days) down people's throats.
Then, French President Emmanuel Macron was criticized for the initial decision to include Marshal Philippe Petain in a ceremony honoring French WWI marshals at the Invalides war museum. "Marshal Petain was a great soldier in World War One," Macron said. Yes, well ... he was also the chief of state of Vichy France during the Nazi occupation of the country. As you might expect, that's still a bit of a sore spot for some people here. Macron backed down and said Petain would not be honored.
On the day Air Force One landed in Paris, Trump fired off this Tweet: "President Macron of France has just suggested that Europe build its own military in order to protect itself from the U.S., China and Russia. Very insulting, but perhaps Europe should first pay its fair share of NATO, which the U.S. subsidizes greatly!"
I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that Trump doesn't speak or understand the French language, and he probably wasn't listening to the Europe1 morning radio program Friday when Macron uttered the only remarks that could have been construed as even remotely close to what Trump attributed to him.
"We will not protect Europeans if we do not decide to have a real European army," Macron said on the show. "Faced with Russia, which is on our borders and has shown that it can be threatening, we must have a Europe that defends itself more alone, and without depending only on the United States, and in a more sovereign way."
Trump should support Macron on this issue rather than criticize him. Macron wants Europe to do exactly what Trump wants it to do -- pull its own weight and pay for its own defense.
Even before he was elected president in May 2017, Macron was saying he wanted to carve out an independent role for France in the same tradition as the country's most respected former head of state, Charles de Gaulle. That meant making decisions that are best for France and its European partners -- decisions that may or may not jibe with the interests of the U.S.
Declassified CIA documents reveal that in 1962 the agency viewed de Gaulle as an obstacle to U.S. preeminence. De Gaulle pulled France out of NATO's integrated military command and sought to build bridges with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. It was a strategy that simply reflected France's geographic and geopolitical reality, positioned as it was between America and Russia.
Some of Trump's recent actions on the global front would seem to justify Macron's pursuit of French and European foreign-policy independence and greater military capability. While the Trump administration has been pressured to ramp up sanctions against Russia, for example, Europe has been more reluctant to harm its own business and trading interests with an important neighbor.
Likewise, it's becoming increasingly obvious that Trump's hostile stance toward Iran has been dictated by special interests and backroom dealing involving his closest advisers, and that he's being encouraged to cozy up to Iran's regional foes -- namely Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel. Those three countries have arguably done far more to compromise American foreign policy than Russia has.
Macron has shown that France isn't going to just blindly follow any finger-in-the-wind foreign policy dictated by America. France and Germany -- two signatories to the Iran nuclear deal that Trump abandoned -- are exploring workarounds to U.S. sanctions against Iran with their European partners.
France has to do what's best for France, and that doesn't always mean kowtowing to U.S. interests. It's a position that Trump, who campaigned on the slogan "America First," should not only understand but fully support.