Friday, April 27, 2018

Macron's Game

By now, everyone understands that French president Emmanuel Macron is vying for the role of leader of Western Europe. Calling him the leader of the Western alliance is a bit of an exaggeration, but he is certainly trying to elevate France over Germany in Western Europe… because of his friendship with President Donald Trump.

Anyone who compares the ceremonial levels of the visits of Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel cannot fail to see that the former is ascending while the latter, a close ally of Barack Obama, is descending in importance and influence. Whereas Obama went to Germany before his election to declare himself a citizen of the world—a Kantian formulation—President Trump attended last year’s Bastille Day celebrations in Paris, as the honored guest of President Macron.

We can mention in passing that Trump is barely welcome in England at all. As soon as his first trip was announced, London's mayor, the notoriously weak Sadiq Khan declared that it would be good to protest Trump. Comparing that gesture of disrespect with Trump's being welcomed at the French Bastille Day last year tells you most of what you need to know about the shift in Atlantic alliances.

If there is one thing that Trump wants to put at a distance, it’s Merkel’s open-arms policy toward refugees. Last week, the government of Emmanuel Macron has further cracked down on Muslim terrorists.  Just days before Macron visited America the French parliament, the National Assembly, approved a new tougher anti-immigration bill.

Donald Trump has found a partner, and ally and a friend in Emmanuel Macron. He ought to be happy about it. Obviously, Macron is a junior partner, but he has the president’s ear. Keep in mind, Macron is more than three decades Trump’s junior. Gestures interpreted as disrespectful might better be seen as avuncular.

The president respects Macron’s views and if you listened carefully to the news conference the two leaders held after their meetings, you would hear that each had made moves to close the gap between them. They were both conciliatory, in deal-making mode.

The Wall Street Journal editorialized this morning:

The French President said he’s willing to accept a revised Iran nuclear deal that includes at least some of President Trump’s demands.

“We want sustainable stability and I believe that the discussions we’ve had together make it possible to open the way, to pave the way, for a new agreement,” Mr. Macron said Tuesday, surprising many in Europe. The Trump-centric U.S. media gave more attention to Mr. Macron’s remarks a day later that he thinks Mr. Trump still wants to withdraw from the deal by May 12, but that isn’t news. Progress toward a joint Europe-U.S. revision is.

Revising the nuclear deal in order to ensure that Iran never obtain nuclear weapons— point made forcefully by Macron in his address to Congress—represents a step in the right direction. Between being for or against the JCPOA, the middle ground calls for a new, revised JCPOA. It is not nothing.

About Macron, I would emphasize a point that few commentators have remarked on, but that would not have escaped the attention of the French. Namely, that Macron came to America, negotiated with Donald Trump and addressed a joint session of Congress… in ENGLISH.

The French take great pride in their language. They want more and more people to speak it. They are terrified at Anglo-Saxon cultural hegemony and have made strenuous efforts to protect their culture from empirical and pragmatic thinking. One notes that Macron, a technocrat and Anglophile, a man who got his political start working for a Socialist government, is turning his nation toward America and toward Great Britain. He is rationalizing the economy and changing socialist labor laws. At a time when Bernie Sanders wants to guarantee everyone a job, Macron wants to put an end to the French labor laws that make it impossible to fire people and that allow railway workers, for example, to retire at age 52 with full benefits.

Macron has enjoyed a level of success that his predecessors, from the left or the right, have not. It is certainly not nothing. We do not know the outcome, but we see that he is moving his country in a positive direction.

Obviously, Macron is president of France. His job is to enhance French national pride. Many French intellectuals and other leftists are horrified to see Macron pal around with Donald Trump, but he is also palling around with the president of the United States, treated with dignity and respect. People cannot fail to notice the ceremonial symbolism. And they should be proud to see that the American president respects him. 

Of course, the American left saw Macron’s speech to Congress as a repudiation of Trumpism. In truth, no matter what he had said they would have considered it a repudiation of Trumpism. He asserted the virtue of the Paris Climate Accord and spoke against nationalism. Democrats cheered lustily, better than sitting on their hands when Donald Trump told them about improving employment rates in minority communities.

One needs to understand that Macron was speaking to two audiences. He was speaking to the American Congress but he was also speaking to his own nation. If he had sounded like an American president, like any American president, he would have alienated his own nation. So he affirmed his national pride without speaking down to America and without speaking up to a superior world power. It was a delicate balancing act, one that Macron seems, in large part to have accomplished.

If anything Macron's presence, the ceremonial welcome Trump accorded him, showed that Macron was the living breathing repudiation of Merkel and Obama.

1 comment:

Sam L. said...

Looks like maybe the French have a good future with Macron.