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The controversies of Trump’s Paris trip, explained

President Donald Trump spent barely two days in France, but his brief visit revealed the widening rift between the United States and its Western allies.

The president traveled to Paris on Friday to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I — and because he was upset that he couldn’t have his own military parade. By Sunday, he had departed, just in time to miss the inaugural Paris Peace Forum, a three-day event promoting international cooperation and multilateralism.

The forum, which was hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron, represents an antidote to rising nationalism in the West and around the world and a not-so-subtle rebuke of the kind of “America First” politics Trump espouses. But the president’s decision to blow off the event was merely the bookend to a rocky foreign visit.

Among other things, Trump attacked Macron on Twitter ahead of their meeting. And Macron used his WWI Armistice Day commemoration speech to denounce nationalism, with Trump looking on. Trump skipped a visit to a World War I battlefield because of bad weather, sending other officials in his place. He also seemed to express enthusiasm for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who wants to drive a wedge between the US and Europe.

Given Trump’s somewhat icy interactions with Macron, a picture of Trump beaming at Putin — while Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel stare back, stone-faced — was a stark visual reminder of the schisms among allies.

Trump’s whirlwind trip to Paris should have followed a simple playbook: meeting with Macron, solemn remembrance and reflection, and brief remarks. Instead, Trump’s trip abroad highlighted how America’s partnerships are weakening under his leadership.

The United States didn’t enter WWI — the “war to end all war” — until conflict had been raging for years, but it wrenched America out of its traditional isolationism and marked its ascendance as a world power. A century later, Trump has set the United States on a markedly different course, pulling inward and rejecting international cooperation. The president’s trip to Paris made that clear.

A bilateral bromance sours, and the rift with Europe grows

At the beginning of Trump’s presidency, Macron was one of the few Western leaders Trump seemed to personally like, weird handshakes aside.

The French president recognized Trump’s transactional style, and sought to flatter and impress him during one-on-one visits. Macron wasn’t always successful in getting through to Trump — the president announced he would withdraw from the Paris climate accord and Iran deal, despite Macron’s entreaties — but the two seemed to get along.

But Macron has also carefully, and very publicly, distanced himself from Trump’s brand of isolationist politics.

He has criticized Trump’s announcement that he would withdraw from the Paris climate deal, and his United Nations General Assembly speech in September explicitly embraced the multilateralism that Trump rejects. Macron has also used the US’s retreat from the world stage as an opportunity to anoint France the defender of Western values.

The tensions between Trump and Macron were apparent before the two even met face to face this weekend. Ahead of their sit-down, Trump blasted Macron for a comment he had made to the press earlier in the week. Macron had expressed support for a European army to counter the rise of Russia and China, one that would help wean European countries off their dependence on the US.

Trump responded to Macron’s comments en route to his meeting with the French president, calling the proposal “very insulting.”

However, the two seemed to have smoothed things out ahead of their bilateral meeting, with Macron telling reporters during a photo op with Trump: “We need a much better burden-sharing in NATO. My proposals on European defense are consistent with that.”

Trump responded that “we want to help Europe but it has to be fair.”

But the show for the cameras seemed just that — a show. During Macron’s address on Sunday, the official anniversary of the armistice that ended WWI, he sharply and forcibly denounced nationalism, calling it a “betrayal of patriotism.” He also warned that “giving in to the fascination for withdrawal, isolationism, violence, and domination would be a grave error.”

Macron didn’t mention Trump by name, but it was a clear reprimand of the US president’s preferred foreign policy approach.

According to NBC News Trump “appeared to grimace while offering muted and delayed applause” after Macron’s remarks. He later thanked Macron on Twitter, and praised the “beautiful ceremony.” He didn’t address the topic of Macron’s speech directly.

Later that day, Macron presided over the opening of the first annual Paris Peace Forum. The three-day event was devised to bring together heads of state, local governments, international organizations, and civil society and religious groups to talk about how to revive collective governance and international cooperation at a time “when global challenges have never been so pressing.” It’s a “Davos of democracy,” French officials told France24.

Trump, however, chose not to attend the forum — which undoubtedly strengthened the message that Macron was trying to send.

Trump cancels WWI memorial visit because rain

Trump really loved the Bastille Day military parade when he visited France in July — so much so that he wanted to host his own in Washington, DC. The high cost of the event stymied his plans, so he decided to travel to Paris this weekend instead.

But if Trump expected a “celebration” in Paris, he didn’t exactly get it. The World War I commemoration was a somber affair, a reflection on a continent ravaged by war and an unsteady peace that brought it back into conflict two decades later.

Trump also didn’t make it to some of the headlining events. On Saturday, the White Houseannounced that Trump’s trip to Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial was canceled “due to scheduling and logistical difficulties caused by the weather.”

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