Trump’s ungracious military spat with Europe
In a flurry of small-minded tweets President Donald Trump tried to pour scorn today on French President Emmanuel Macron’s solemn efforts to commemorate the Great War of 1914-1918, which left 10 million dead, 6 million injured and mutilated, 3 million widows, 6 million orphans, and uncounted millions of civilian victims.
The War was an unprecedented traumatic and a truly global historic event that dismantled the four great empires of France, Britain, Germany and the Turkish Ottomans. It brought more than 680,000 soldiers from French colonies and 1.2 million soldiers from British India into the fight in various locations inside and outside Europe.
“For four years, Europe almost committed suicide. Humanity had sunk into a hideous labyrinth of merciless battles, in a hell that engulfed all fighters, whichever side they were on, whatever nationality they had,” Macron said.
He was surrounded by 60 world leaders including Trump, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Germany’s Angela Merkel at the perpetually burning flame to the “Unknown Soldier” at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
It is true that Europe’s suicide would have been total without massive American intervention. About 116,708 American military personnel died and over 204,000 were wounded — sacrifices for which both France and Britain continue to be deeply grateful.
Trump’s piqued reactions to what Europeans see as life and death issues are widening the trust gap between them and Washington. Trump gives the impression of being pricked in his amour-propre or self-regard rather than as thoughtful about critically important matters of state that concern the security and prosperity of all Western and other democracies.
Trump is right if he believes that European defense cannot be secured without American backing, including boots on the ground. But his gruff high-handed attitude signals that the trust that existed before 2016 between the US and its closest European allies may never be fully restored.
For Macron, failing to learn from World War I would be folly of the highest order, especially since it was followed by the more horrendous second World War against the nationalist and totalitarian ideologies of Nazism and Fascism. More than 80 million people are thought to have died then, including deaths from war-related disease and famine. About 55 million of the dead were civilians. The Soviet Union estimated 26.6 million dead and China estimated 20 million dead.
So, the people sharing sorrow at the Paris commemoration were grieving also for the many millions who were not American or European, and Macron’s speech was an honest attempt to draw lessons for all the world’s nations. It was not conceived as a “thank you to Americans” as might have pleased Trump.
To everyone Macron said, “I know, the old demons are resurging, ready to finish off their work of chaos and death. New ideologies manipulate religions, push a contagious obscurantism. Sometimes, history threatens to retake its tragic course and threaten our heritage of peace that we believed we had definitively settled with our ancestors’ blood.
“Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism: Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. 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.”
Several in the American and British press, including some of the world’s best journalists, took away a distorted message because of their emotional dislike of Trump. They saw Macron’s reference to nationalism as a rebuke to Trump for his insistence on putting America first.
That made it look like Trump was being brazenly belittled by Macron, who leads a small country of 60 million people with an economy on-tenth that of America’s and a small military barely capable of defending its borders despite being well equipped and trained. That was not what Macron intended or said.
An irritated Trump turned defensive, saying: “The problem is that Emmanuel suffers from a very low Approval Rating in France, 26%, and an unemployment rate of almost 10%. He was just trying to get onto another subject. By the way, there is no country more Nationalist than France, very proud people-and rightfully so!……..MAKE FRANCE GREAT AGAIN!”
Macron also declared: “I believe in the project of a sovereign Europe. We won’t protect Europe if we don’t decide to have a true European army. We have to have a Europe that can defend itself alone — and without only relying on the United States — in a more sovereign manner.”
Smarting from media jibes, Trump overreacted: “Emmanuel Macron suggests building its own army to protect Europe against the U.S., China and Russia. But it was Germany in World Wars One & Two – How did that work out for France? They were starting to learn German in Paris before the U.S. came along. Pay for NATO or not!”
This ungracious taunt, whatever its reasons, may burn transatlantic bridges and strengthen French and German resolve to depend less on the US even after Trump recedes into history. Macron’s reference to a European army concerns deterring Russian aggression, including more adventures like the occupation and annexation of Crimea. It was not a repudiation of respect for the US military.
Minutes after Trump’s tweet, Merkel took the extraordinary step of responding that she fully backs the European army proposal.
Earlier, Macron told French radio: “We should protect ourselves when it comes to China, Russia and even the United States of America.”
Trump found these remarks “very insulting”, but Macron was referring to cyber security since cyber intrusions by the US are already happening, including the National Security Agency’s intrusions revealed by Edward Snowdon.
Macron also regretted Trump’s withdrawal from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which required Russia and the US to eliminate their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.
“When I see President Trump announcing that he’s quitting a major disarmament treaty which was formed after the 1980s Euro-missile crisis that hit Europe, who is the main victim? Europe and its security,” Macron rightly warned. (Brij Khindaria).