President Trump’s weekend in France turned events marking the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I into a diplomatic obstacle course.
He weathered an imperious lecture from French Present Emmanuel Macron, suffered widespread criticism for canceling a visit to a war cemetery and dodged anti-Trump demonstrations, including topless female protesters with slogans written across their chests.
Mr. Trump lumbered through a series of commemorations rife with complex symbolism and diplomatic pitfalls and then went out on a high note Sunday by refusing to let Mr. Macron’s political barbs disturb a solemn Veterans Day tribute.
“We honor the American and French service members who shed their blood together in a horrible, horrible war, but a war known as the Great War,” Mr. Trump said in a speech at Suresnes American Cemetery, where more than 1,500 fallen American service members from World War I are buried.
The trip provided Mr. Trump scant relief from the political challenges at home, where Democrats took control of the House and his ousting of Jeff Sessions as attorney general spurred more scrutiny of his dealings with the Russia investigation.
In France, it was Mr. Trump’s affront to liberal elites and globalism that kept the political atmosphere charged.
Earlier Sunday, in a major speech at the Arc de Triomphe before more than 70 world leaders, Mr. Macron took a swipe at the American president by condemning the dangers of nationalism.
“Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism,” said Mr. Macron, chiding Mr. Trump without uttering his name for calling himself a nationalist and embracing an “America first” agenda.
“In saying, ‘Our interests first, whatever happens to the others,’ you erase the most precious thing a nation can have, that which makes it live, that which causes it to be great and that which is most important: its moral values,” said the French president.
Mr. Trump and Mr. Macron once shared a close friendship, which cooled after the American president ripped up the Iran nuclear deal and demanded better trade deals with Europe.
Mr. Macron has taken on the role of Europe’s champion for confronting Mr. Trump’s anti-globalist agenda and similar right-wing movements in countries such as Italy, Hungary and Poland.
His job approval rating in France plummeting, Mr. Macron has sharpened his attacks on Mr. Trump, which could provide a lifeline to the country’s liberal elite.
Mr. Trump took aim at Mr. Macron with a tweet as soon as Air Force One touched down Friday in Paris.
“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!” Mr. Trump tweeted.
He referred to a recent radio interview in which Mr. Macron called for a larger European military force to repel threats from “China, Russia and even the United States.”
When the two leaders met Saturday at the Elysee Palace, they avoided a public dust-up, but their smiles were tight and the tension between them was thick.
Rather than address the barbs, they focused on increased NATO military burden-sharing. It’s a priority for Mr. Trump and an area where the two men agree.
“We are getting along from the standpoint of fairness, and to be fair, we want to help Europe, but it has to be fair,” Mr. Trump said when a French reporter asked about the perceived insult. “The burden-sharing has been largely on the United States, as the president will say.”
After the meeting, Mr. Trump canceled a visit to the military cemetery at Belleau, site of a major World War I battle about 50 miles from Paris.
The White House blamed the schedule change on bad weather and security concerns. Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, attended the wreath-laying ceremony in place of the president.
The move provoked an onslaught of criticism, including that a rainstorm that likely grounded the Marine One helicopter would not prevent the one-hour drive to the cemetery.
“President @realDonaldTrump a no-show because of raindrops? Those veterans the president didn’t bother to honor fought in the rain, in the mud, in the snow – & many died in trenches for the cause of freedom,” tweeted former Secretary of State John F. Kerry.
The next day at the cemetery in Suresnes, Mr. Trump paid tribute to the heroes of the Battle of Belleau Wood, where thousands of American and French service members died. “They turned the tide of the war,” he said.
Surrounded by a sea of grave markers, Mr. Trump mourned the lost lives and celebrated their patriotism.
“Each of these marble crosses and Stars of David marks the life of an American warrior — great, great warriors they are — who gave everything for family, country, God and freedom,” said the president.
Throughout the speech, Mr. Trump extolled the strong friendship between the U.S. and France that was “sealed in battle.”
“We fought well together. You cannot fight better than we fought together,” Mr. Trump said.
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