President Donald Trump is currently France, where he’ll attend an Armistice Day celebration to mark the 100th year anniversary of the end of the First World War, but his trip has already gotten off to a bad start. Just moments after landing, he tweeted:
Trump’s peevish tweet seems to be based on a misunderstanding of Macron’s comments about building up Europe’s unified military. According to the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail, “Actually, what Macron said on French radio on Tuesday was that Europe needed a real army to reduce reliance on the United States for defense in the face of a resurgent Russia.”
Macron’s actual comments were perfectly consistent with Trump’s own agenda of getting NATO countries to pay more for their own defense. “We won’t protect Europeans if we don’t decide to have a real European army,” the French president remarked. “Faced with Russia, which is near our borders and has shown it could be threatening—I want to build a real security dialogue with Russia, which is a country I respect, a European country—but we must have a Europe that can defend itself on its own without relying only on the United States.”
Trump is walking into a fraught situation in Europe, one well described by foreign policy scholar Tom Wright of the Brookings Institution. In a series of tweets, Wright argued that the trip shows how America and its European allies are at cross-purposes. Trump’s main reason for going seems to be that he enjoys military parades, which the French excel in presenting. Macron, meanwhile, is using the event to promote the Paris Peace Forum, a showcase for liberal internationalism. Normally, an American president would be welcome at such an event, but Trump has been discouraged from sticking around for it.
Wright’s tweets are worth reading in full, but here are some highlights: