General

A “Relation Spéciale”?

In case you think history doesn’t really matter:

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French President Emmanuel Macron and Brigitte Macron arrived at the White House on Monday (April 23) at the start of the first state visit hosted by U.S. President Donald Trump. Trump and first lady Melania Trump greeted the Macrons at the White House. Shortly after, they were due to dine at Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington, the first U.S. president and Revolutionary War commander whose alliance with France was critical to victory over the British. Working meetings will be held at the White House on Tuesday before Macron addresses Congress the following day. #PresidentTrump #DonaldTrump #PresidentMacron #Macron #firstlady #MelaniaTrump #BrigitteMacron #UnitedStates #France #WashingtonDC #WhiteHouse #voanews

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Our current US president, the current French president Emmanuel Macron, and their spouses, dined at George Washington’s Mount Vernon.

It is no secret that this US president evokes wildly negative feelings in many. [Full disclosure: I did not vote for him.] However, whatever one’s unfavorable opinions of him as a man, as well as of any of his domestic policies, note that there he is, yet again, with the president of France. Previously, President and Mrs. Macron had lavishly hosted this US president and the first lady in Paris in 2017.

Shortly after their arrival in Washington D.C., Macron and his wife, Brigitte, also took an “informal” walking tour of Washington D.C. landmarks. They even snapped selfies with tourists – most of whom were probably Americans – at the Lincoln Memorial (click the photo for the full CBS News video):

[Screen capture of CBS News web site.]

Americans usually love foreigners who (at least convincingly appear to) admire the United States – especially when they pay homage to America’s heroes, such as Abraham Lincoln – and the fluently English-speaking Macron obviously knows that. He even recalled the 100th anniversary of the World War I US Marines’ battle at Belleau Wood by gifting a sapling from that French forest to the people of the United States:

One American military historian called it a “startling tribute“:

“I think that’s just a startling tribute to Marines, and a great credit on the French for coming up with that idea. I mean some guy said, ‘We gotta bring something, a gift on this state visit,’ and for them to think of something as significant as an oak tree from Belleau Wood, to me, is just remarkable. And it supports what I said earlier, about how much they remember, and cherish that memory…”

How many American new friends of France does President Macron create thanks to this visit to Washington? Likely quite a few. “He don’t seem to hate us. He even seems to like us,” is probably being uttered in millions of American households.

Clearly this US president was returning the hospitality he got from Macron in Paris. And it was indeed quite a return of it. The Voice of America (VOA), a radio and media service that is the closest thing to an official broadcast voice of the government of the United States, and which is aimed primarily at audiences outside of the US, called the welcome Macron received “dazzling”:

[Screen capture of VOA web site.]

Macron also addresses Congress today.

In comparison, this same US president has not yet been able to visit here, the United Kingdom, mostly due to angry opposition from various parliamentarians, including the Speaker of the House of Commons. In early 2017 quite publicly he declared that this US president would NOT ever be invited to speak to parliament on any visit here:

He and others not desiring this president’s presence in the UK are certainly entitled to do their best to keep him at “arm’s length.” (Lots of Americans sure as heck don’t want him around either.) However, that inflexibility from British lawmakers has political costs to the UK and we are starting to see them. A UK Sky News correspondent in the US wrote yesterday:

The friendship between Presidents Trump and Macron could have consequences for UK diplomacy.

It appears some in British media are finally starting to notice. And they should be concerned. Hopefully, some loudmouths in the House of Commons are paying attention also as this US president they loathe and consider an odious individual unworthy of being in decent company chums around with the French president in Paris, and then high-profile hosts that same French president in Washington, DC… while not yet setting so much as a foot here in the United Kingdom.

What Winston Churchill in 1946 first called the “special relationship” between the US and the UK is starting to show signs of fraying, and is now also facing some stiff competition from what is being termed a new “relation spéciale” between the US and France. Maybe it is Macron’s relative youth; maybe it is his business background; maybe it is a genuine admiration for the US; but whatever the source(s) for it, in all the years I have been following US-UK-French politics, I have never witnessed such a sustained, media-savvy, and determined “charm offensive” directed at Americans from a French president.

Whatever one’s negative opinions of this US president, he is the constitutionally chosen president of the United States, supported by the 60 million or so who voted for him – a distinction between the man and the office which the French seem to understand. Important to appreciate too is that numbers of other Americans who did not vote for him, or who may not have voted and are generally “indifferent” to politics overall and couldn’t even name one of their two US senators, are also never pleased to see any US president attacked abroad by foreign politicians (particularly by supposed allies); they interpret that as disrespect, and even dislike, for their United States.

[The “Big Ben” clock at the Palace of Westminster, London. Photo by me, 1996.]

Another “iceberg” is on the US-UK horizon, but we’ve seen scant discussion of it as of yet. It is unclear how much British voters (particularly Labour voters) are aware of them, but based on his known foreign policy views if the current leader of the Labour Party were to direct Labour to victory over the Conservatives in the next general election and becomes prime minister, he would be the most “unfriendly” British prime minister Americans have dealt with since probably Lord Palmerston during the American Civil War. He entering “Number 10” – especially while this US president also holds office – would almost certainly bring down the final curtain on the post-WWII US-UK “special relationship”: when visiting Europe, US presidents will probably be spending lots more time in Paris and in Berlin, and bypassing London.

Finishing on that not exactly “cheery” note about our Anglo-American alliance and possible future, have a good day, wherever you are in the world. 🙂