Trump in Europe: A solitary figure, and a no-show
(CN) — President Donald Trump scowled for the TV cameras, gave a cold shoulder to European leaders, displayed chumminess with Russian President Vladimir Putin, posted a negative tweet about the French president, missed a forum on world peace, and a topless protester ran out on the wet Champs-Elysees in Paris as Trump’s motorcade passed, with “Fake Peacemaker” written on her breasts.
All this drama might have been expected even before Trump’s trip to Paris to commemorate the centenary of the end of World War I, and even burnished Trump’s cherished reputation as an American president advocating an “America First” worldview.
What was not expected — and what may hurt Trump’s standing even among some of his supporters — is what he did not do: On Saturday, citing bad weather, Trump skipped going to a U.S. military cemetery outside Paris to pay homage to American soldiers killed in the war.
The grandson of Winston Churchill, among many others, blasted Trump’s no-show.
“They died with their face to the foe and that pathetic inadequate @realDonaldTrump couldn’t even defy the weather to pay his respects to The Fallen,” tweeted Nicholas Soames, a Conservative British politician and Churchill’s grandson.
Trump’s trip to France started with controversy even before he arrived on Friday night.
In a tweet, Trump blasted French President Emmanuel Macron over comments Macron made in a radio interview that week. Macron said Europe needed its own military to defend itself in the event of aggression by Russia, particularly in light of an American decision to withdraw from an intermediate-range missile treaty with Russia, a move that Europeans feel threatens them. Macron added that Europe also needed to boost its defense against possible cyberattacks by Russia, China and even the United States.
Trump condemned Macron in a tweet, though it appears he may have done so without having fully understood that Macron appeared to distinguish between military threats and cyber threats. Some news outlets had conflated Macron’s comments to make it seem the French president was concerned about the U.S. militarily.
“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!” Trump tweeted.
The following day, Trump and Macron sat in front of TV cameras and spoke of their friendship. Trump, though, appeared uncomfortable, his face lacking expression as he sat and scowled at the assembled media.
The first, and only, question from reporters was about Trump’s tweet saying he was insulted.
Trump did not reply directly, but talked about unity and the goodwill between France and the United States. Macron and Trump both agreed that Europe should spend more on defense, as Trump has demanded.
“We are very much similar in our views,” Trump said. “We want a strong Europe. That’s very important to us.”
Then after a luncheon the first lady and he had with Macron and his wife, Trump skipped going to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery about 60 miles northeast of Paris. The cemetery honors those who fought at the Battle of Belleau Wood, a major battle in Marine Corps history.
The weather was too bad for him to fly there in the presidential helicopter, Marine One, the White House said.
He was scheduled to lay a wreath and observe a moment of silence at the cemetery, where nearly 2,300 American soldiers are buried.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Sunday that the president skipped the event so his motorcade would not cause traffic problems.
“President Trump did not want to cause that kind of unexpected disruption to the city and its people,” Sanders said.
On Sunday, Trump took part in the big armistice commemoration with dozens of other world leaders at the Arc de Triomphe.
But while Europe’s leaders, and dozens of others, including Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Canada’s Justin Trudeau, took buses and walked together in the rain to the Arc de Triomphe in a show of solidarity, Trump opted to take his motorcade. Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also came alone in motorcades.
“Trump’s solitary arrival felt even more freighted, yet another sign of how under Trump, the United States intends to go it alone, pulling out of international multilateral treaties and starting trade wars with allies,” The Atlantic magazine wrote.
It was during Trump’s drive to the Arc de Triomphe down the Champs-Elysees that three protesters with the protest group Femen got over police barricades. One managed to run into the boulevard as the motorcade passed, her arms raised. Agence France-Presse reported that their bare breasts carried the slogans: “Fake Peacemaker,” “Gangsta Party” and “Hypocrisy Parade.”
At the commemoration, Trump and Melania Trump arrived after the other leaders, except Putin, had taken their places. Cordially, Trump shook hands with Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Shortly afterward, Putin arrived and Trump and the Russian leader exchanged smiles and warm greetings. Putin gave Trump a thumbs-up and a friendly pat on the arm.
During Macron’s speech, the French president made a veiled jab at Trump.
“Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism,” Macron said. Trump has been criticized for branding himself a nationalist during the recent campaign in the U.S. midterm elections.
Le Parisien newspaper noted that Trump sat “mute in his seat.”
After the commemoration, Trump headed off to another American military cemetery in Paris to honor the dead. The other world leaders, including Putin and Netanyahu, headed to a peace forum Macron had arranged, where the discussions were to deal with global issues such as immigration, climate change and inequality.
On his own, and standing in a slight rain, Trump made brief remarks and spoke in glowing terms about American soldiers who “gave their last breath.”
Turning to World War II veterans in attendance who sat under cover, he quipped: “You look very comfortable up there as we get drenched.”
That remark, too, was criticized, following his no-show on Saturday. Photos showed Trump standing alone with an umbrella in the military cemetery.
As Trump returned home for Veterans Day in the United States, the distance between Trump’s America and Europe seemed to only be getting wider.
(Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.)