This is a remarkable passage wherein the President of France compares President Trump to Putin and Erdogan, as cheap bullies that need to be stood up to. Macron told a French paper: “my handshake with him, it wasn’t innocent.” It was rather a “moment of truth. One must show that you won’t make small concessions, even symbolic ones, but also not over-publicize things, either.”
The even more stunning quote is translated in the write-up of the French language interview in The Guardian where Macron compares Trump to Putin and Erdogan.
The much commented-upon power play, during which each man held the other’s gaze for a long moment, was described by one observer as a “screw you in handshake form”. It ended when the US president, after two attempts, finally succeeding in disengaging.
“Donald Trump, the Turkish president or the Russian president see relationships in terms of a balance of power, Macron said. “That doesn’t bother me. I don’t believe in diplomacy by public abuse, but in my bilateral dialogues I won’t let anything pass.”
There’s been a lot of discussion about just what Donald Trump must have said in private during his trip to Europe. Obviously, he was seen in a very negative light by European leaders already. But there does appear to have been a shift since the meetings in Brussels. The most visible sign was German Chancellor Merkel’s statement that Europe can no longer rely on the United States. The feeling is running so strong in Germany that her main electoral opponent, SPD Leader Martin Schulz, felt compelled to make this statement attacking …
Remarkable attack on Trump’s treatment of Merkel by her chief rival Martin Schulz. pic.twitter.com/IvK1AVf9Nq
— Richard Chambers (@newschambers) May 29, 2017
Some have argued that these statements shouldn’t be taken at face value, that they are meant for domestic consumption and may serve a domestic political end. That is no doubt right to at least some extent. But democracies run on their electorates. So it is ultimately a distinction without a difference.
So why the post-Brussels shift?
Trump’s speech alone is likely a sufficient explanation. But I suspect there’s an additional element. Most of the major European and NATO leaders had already met Trump in Washington – Merkel, May, Gentiloni, Trudeau and others. But I suspect in meeting as a group, over a more extended period and in a context specifically focused on Europe and NATO there was a further realization that what they are watching from across the Atlantic is no act. Indeed, Trump appears more impulsive and erratic in person than on TV. Rather than growing into the job he’s growing into the role of aggressor.
Another, perhaps more critical realization, is suggested in this Twitter thread by Max Fisher of the Times: That is, it’s not just that Trump is greedy or impulsive or unreliable, indifferent to the North Atlantic alliance but that he is positively against it. He and Vladimir Putin are in a de facto alliance against ‘Europe’ or to put it less geographically, the liberal internationalist state system which has rested on and built out from the United States and Western Europe. In this respect, we don’t need to concern ourselves with election tampering or ‘collusion’ or just what’s behind the relationship between the two men. The relevant issue is that they appear to be operating with common goals. Why that should be the case is, in this context, a secondary point.
Yet, secondary point that it may be, this realization can’t help but be confirmed by the increasingly bizarre and incriminating revelations out of Washington – the Kushner back-channel, the Comey firing, the Oval Office meeting with Lavrov.
The President of France is talking about standing firm with predatory autocrats. And one of them is the President of the United States.