Emmanuel Macron successfully charmed every Washington lawmaker and its President last week, but it will take more than a tribute to the Franco-American historic friendship to ensure diplomatic relations and stability on the international stage. The French president addressed Congress on April 25th in a stirring speech, continuously interrupted by applause and standing ovations from Republicans and Democrats alike.
Mr. Macron reminded his audience of the shared history between his nation and the United States. From their fights against tyrannical rule to their common vision of democracy in the post-World War II order. He spoke of their mutual ideals of liberty, tolerance, equal rights, and humanity. Fortunately, Mr. Macron also took the opportunity to promote his vision of governance which greatly differs from his friend’s, Mr. Trump. The French leader discussed the threat of isolationism, withdrawal, and nationalism in a political environment susceptible to religious extremism. He warned of the dangers of commercial war, referring to Mr. Trump’s tariffs on steel, aluminum, washing machines, and solar panels. Mr. Macron reminded his audience of the benefits of globalization and the importance of maintaining free trade. Finally, the French president spoke of climate change and the retreat of the United States from the Paris Agreement, and of the fake news phenomenon harming the precepts of democracy. In short, Mr. Macron successfully put forward his liberal agenda in front of a conservative-dominated White House and Congress. Was his speech merely symbolic or will it advance long-term policy goals?
To answer this question, one must first look at the relationship between the French and American leaders. Both have maintained a stable and friendly rapport since their respective elections. Mr. Trump, who continuously criticized foreign leaders who dared to disagree with him, has remained civil toward his French counterpart. This restraint may be caused by their shared path to power. They were political outsiders and men of the private sector before their respective presidential wins. Shortly after his election, Mr. Macron successfully wooed Mr. Trump by inviting him to the Bastille Day parade on July 14th, 2017 and treating him to a lovely dinner on the Eiffel Tower. Interestingly, the French leader has not shied away from speaking against Mr. Trump: he publicly criticized his racist remarks and refused to renegotiate the Paris agreement for Mr. Trump’s approval. Mr. Macron’s appeal to multilateralism and liberalism contradicts Mr. Trump’s discourse of nationalism and populism. However, excluding awkwardly long handshakes and humiliating hand holding, the Franco-American ties appear strong.
Still, Mr. Trump is a volatile diplomat and Mr. Macron will only remain friendly as long as it does not hinder his image at home and abroad. One cannot predict the future of their relationship. Mr. Macron should remain cautious and critical of Mr. Trump’s policies. His efforts still appear more symbolic than substantive. The United States is still unsupportive of the Paris agreement and rejects the Iran nuclear deal. Mr. Macron’s criticism should be more direct than his address from last week. He should not be afraid to directly and publicly confront Mr. Trump. The American leader has shown no sympathy when discussing foreign populations, and Mr. Macron should not feel restrained. The French president will soon be pressured to persuade his American counterpart to comply with other Western leaders and press him to advocate for open borders, free trade, and liberal economic policies.
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