Everyone, including President Donald Trump, likes French President Emmanuel Macron. He’s the first foreign leader Trump hosted for a state visit. And at least France’s policies — unlike Germany’s, whose chancellor, Angela Merkel, arrived on Friday for her visit — are gloriously selfish.
Inevitably, leaders have favorites. After all, they’re only human. President Barack Obama was close to Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan, while President George W. Bush got along well with then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Score one for Bush.
For a man who isn’t shy about his likes and dislikes, Trump has done a better job of not letting personal sentiments dictate national policy than I expected. He likes outgoing, manly men, as befits his own self-image, but he’s got a better record of opposing the manly Vladimir Putin than Obama and his reset.
Macron sees this, and is playing his weak hand with skill. This is a tradition that goes back to Gen. Charles de Gaulle, who wanted a united Europe but not one that could dictate to him, and who realized that if he hid behind the American shield of NATO, he could play an independent role in the Cold War. It was a selfish policy, but brilliant in its pursuit of French glory.
Macron’s policies are different, but his goal is the same. In Europe, he demands closer relations to slap down Germany, which doesn’t want to subsidize French financial incontinence.
And instead of using the U.S. commitment to Europe to allow him to assert France’s independence, he has sided with the United States in high-profile ways like the missile strike on Syria. The resulting goodwill has allowed him to sidle up to Trump to encourage the United States to stick to the Iran nuclear deal and return to the Paris climate change protocol, which are France’s true priorities.
Quoth the great Frenchman, in speaking of Trump’s attitude to the Paris protocol and the Iran nuclear deal: “It can work [in] the short term, but it’s very insane [in] the mid to long term.”
That’s a funny way to put it, because a long term is what the Iran nuclear deal lacks; most of it expires after 15 years. For that reason alone, the deal’s a bad one. But I admire Macron. Like de Gaulle, he pursues France’s interests as he sees them.
France is an ambivalent ally, but it has a clear view of what it wants. Sometimes our interests and theirs will coincide. I respect that. Germany, on the other hand, is America’s worst ally. Its policies are selfish, and unlike France’s, they are narrowly so, advanced without a larger vision. Germany’s characteristic posture since World War II has been to shuffle around on its knees while hitting everyone else over the head with its own moral superiority. I can stand France’s glorious selfishness, but German narrowness combined with self-righteousness is hard to endure.
The German contribution to NATO is derisory. It was Merkel who created Europe’s refugee crisis by opening its borders. It’s Germany that defends the euro but isn’t willing to import enough goods from the rest of Europe to make the currency viable.
It’s Germany that quit on nuclear power and is building Nord Stream 2, a gas pipeline with Russia that will give Russia more power to blackmail the West while costing Ukraine billions of dollars in lost pipeline transit fees and increasing its vulnerability to Russia.
German policies aren’t grand like France’s. While Germany and Merkel preen themselves as defenders of the rules-based international order in defiance of Trump, their policies are unilateral, narrow and advanced without any of France’s grandeur.
By all accounts, Merkel’s relations with Trump are chilly. I can see why. What France wants isn’t in our interests, but at least it’s playing a big game. What Germany wants is merely grubby in its narrowness.
Ted R. Bromund is a senior research fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Thatcher Center for Freedom.