Friday, May 26, 2017

Macron Débuts on the World Stage

Emmanuel Macron made his first appearance at a grand international meeting at yesterday's NATO conference. Much commentary has focused on his several handshakes with Donald Trump, whose overbearing manner failed to cow the young French president, even if our First Oaf did manage to shove aside the prime minister of Montenegro in his zeal to place himself in the front row for a photo op. For a brilliant commentary on the whole show, you can't do better than the interview Dominique Moïsi gave to France Inter this morning:




Dominique did not comment, however, on what I thought was the most remarkable moment of the conference. Macron, arriving last for the meeting, found himself alone facing a phalanx of the high and mighty. With his customary poise, he traversed the distance between himself and the advancing front rank of leaders, which included, of course, Trump slightly to the right of center but also Angela Merkel slightly to the left. At the last moment, Macron veered to his right to greet Merkel, whom he had of course met in Germany last week, with a warm hug, leaving Trump, who clearly expected to be greeted first in a sign of feudal submission, looking characteristically unsure of how to conceal his contempt.

The commentary on this event--including mine--would not be out of place in an analysis by a Jacques Le Goff or Georges Duby of some medieval court ritual. In a moment of absolute uncertainty in world affairs, with the most powerful nation in the world governed by a "terrifying," "impulsive," "unpredictable," and incurious imbecile (the words in quotes are Dominique's, the last two are mine), we are reduced to scrutinizing the gestures of our lords for signs of the order that once reigned after the supposed "end of history." Back then we called it the New World Order. How nostalgically quaint that appellation seems today.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

In Germany, it is considered rude to greet men in a group before greeting the women. I was wondering whether there was anything similar in France. I doubt there are any diplomatic protocol rules for these kinds of situations.

bert said...

In 2003 at a previous lowpoint of swaggering witlessness it fell to a Frenchman to make the speech condemning the practice of invading countries and toppling governments to aggressively impose your universal principles. Awkwardly, the guy delivering the speech had a Bonaparte fetish. He also turned out to be a fake-aristo with little interest in anything much besides his own reflection. But at the time there was spontaneous applause in the UN Security Council, which is not nothing.

Macron is aware that his primary stage is European. He needs to re-establish France as - in Obama's words - a regional power, and Trump seems in this context highly ignorable. If he's brought down by the pack, there'll be a long line to stomp on the corpse, and at that point you'd expect Macron to take his place in the queue, but not before.

Anonymous said...

@Bert

There is no contradiction between having "Napoleon fetish" and upholding 2Oth principles of international law. I know it is difficult for a Brit to admire Napoleon, but Napoleon did more to steer continental Europe in a liberal direction and towards the universal values of the French Revolution (reform of legal codes) than the US and the UK did Iraq and the Middle East.

Trump will self-destruct with or without Macron and European contempt.

bert said...

Napoleon is large, he contains multitudes.
- A year or so back the English market got a fawning new biography by Andrew Roberts, a plump soft-handed Tory Boy.
- During the Sarkozy years, we were frequently treated on the BBC to the views of Jacques Myard, the direct French equivalent of a purple-faced Conservative backbencher. I remember on Question Time he was asked to name his favourite painting, and he chose Ingres' imperial coronation. Doing so clearly made him damp with pleasure.
- Take another look at Bush Jr's second inaugural speech - it's the Enlightenment on horseback. If you can somehow suspend your own national preconceptions (never an easy task for anyone, myself of course included) you'll see that beneath the flag-wagging the parallels are inescapable.
- You mention the Code Napoleon. I might mention the reintroduction of slavery (following its abolition under the revolution). And we could go back and forth like that all day.
- Your comment is the Official Version of the National Myth taught in France from preschool on. Just as it would be foolish to claim that it is wholly false, it would be wrong to believe that it's anything close to the complete picture.

Lapinot said...

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-40077241

"Donald Trump, the Turkish president or the Russian president see things in terms of power relationships, which doesn't bother me," he said.
"I don't believe in diplomacy through public criticism but in my bilateral dialogues I don't let anything pass. That is how you get respect."

Anonymous said...

@bert

Of course. c'est l'évidence même. I can suspend my national preconceptions when they are false but in this case they are not. Bush was not the Enlightenment on horseback; he was American exceptionalism on steroids.

My comment was directed at your silly jibe at Villepin who certainly compares well with Jack Straw or Blair, who, if I remember correctly, were poodles tagging along in their "special relationship" to American exceptionalism. Villepin is quite intelligent man. I have heard him speak many times. I have never heard a British politician half as clever. But I admit, I seldom pay much attention to your leaders.

bert said...

You're attacking, quite literally, a straw man.
What part of ”swaggering witlessness” do you find hard to understand?
Since we're discussing it, we might as well state the obvious. The decadence of current US politics, and specifically the degeneracy of the Republican party, has made conspicuous intelligence a liability among important sections of the electorate. In France, far higher value is ascribed to intelligence among politicians, and that's a good thing. Whether the general level of intelligence is higher than in other European capitals is less clear. What is clear is the unusually obsequious deference of the media and commentariat toward politicians, both regarding their intellect and more broadly. Villepin's books are a joke. His attempts at labour market reform, to take a current issue, were stupid in both conception and execution.

Last point: this anonymous thing continues to irritate, as you're well aware.
And you remain charming as ever.

Anonymous said...

@bert

What part of "swaggering witlessness" do I not understand? Neither part of it. I didn't find Villepin's speech at the UN witless or swaggering. He was simply "stating the obvious" in a rather high-flown, rhetorical way, which is not uncommon in France, the land of literary politicians. The obvious being that Bush was leading the world towards an unnecessary and stupid war.

I haven't read his book. Most books by politicians are jokes. I think you are exaggerating---rhetorically--- the "obsequious" deferrence of the media towards polticians. It is no worse now than in the past. In any case American politicians have never been distinguished by high intelligence and culture. Trump is no doubt the nadir, but I would hesitate to place any contemporary French or British politician in the same class.

You remain charming as eveer too mon cher ami, as charming as a Brit can be. Sorry if my anonymity irritates you. What difference does it make if I have a name or not? Henceforth I will signal my posts by the symbol §§§§

Robinson said...

Macron's gesture seems less impressive to me now that he has given it an extended-replay-commentary for the JDD: squeezing Trump's hand was not an act of heroism & its minor symbolic significance needed no commentary. Macron would no doubt like to be able to assert French independence by opposing America on an issue of substance, as De Gaulle and Chirac did before. He cannot, so he is reduced to symbolic snubs that play well with his electorate but do little for France.

Macron and Merkel are beggars in Trump's court. They would like him to join them in fighting climate change, but they have nothing immediate to offer in return for American action. They would like for Trump to affirm his support for Article 50 of the NATO treaty. This issue is urgent because of the danger of Russian intervention in the Baltic states. Only the credible threat of American military action against Russian interlopers will keep the Baltics safe. Germany itself is not really committed to article 50: it can't and won't threaten to go to war with Russia over Estonia. Germany lacks both the military capacity to stand up to Russia and the democratic will to keep its treaty commitment to its Baltic allies.

Merkel has given a much discussed speech in Bavaria about how Europe and Germany need to be more independent of the USA and Britain. True German independence might mean abandoning the Baltic states to Russian hegemony: a prospect that wouldn't bother Trump much but which would be a disaster for democracy in central Europe. Or it might mean "NATO stepping up to the plate" - a Franco-German Panzer division permanently stationed outside Vilnius and the credible threat that Russian military interlopers would be shot by German soldiers. If it means neither of these things, Merkel's declaration means as much as Macron's handshake. Peace in Europe continues to depend upon the threat of American military action, and on Putin being prudent enough to meddle only in Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Belarus and Serbia.

Anonymous said...

@robinson

Peace in in Europe does not really depend on NATO. It never did. It is impossible to prove that the USSR was deterred from invading West Germany during the Cold War by the presence of American troops in Germany, who were always outnumbered by Warsaw Pact troops. NATO deterrence relied on the threat of nuclear war, i.e. mutually assured destruction or something close to it. Few Europeans thought during the Cold War that the US would have been willing to risk nuclear war on its own soil to prevent the USSR from attacking West Germany. In any case, there isn't a shred of evidence that the USSR ever intended to invade western Europe.

Article 5 of Nato has only been invoked once---after 9/11---in solidarity with the US in Afghanistan. It has never been invoked for the purpose for which NATO was created--to repel an attack by the Soviet Union. What makes you think that Russia today wants to invade the Baltic States? Of course, it would be nice if Trump affirmed his support for article 5 (after all the US is obliged by a treaty), but there is no reason to think that the Baltic states are in danger. We shall see. Crimea was a rather special case.

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bert said...

Lol.
The swaggering witlessness belonged to the Bush administration. Art in his post referred to the First Oaf; I referred to a previous lowpoint. Might be an idea to reread the thread with that in mind.
Much of the best diplomacy comes from clearing up misunderstandings.

In fact Villepin's performance was very good. It was a case that needed making and he was there to make it. As I mentioned it got applause - in that venue I don't think that's happened before or since.

Whether he was the best vehicle for delivering the message is another matter, and not perhaps the most important.

Here in Britain there was much chuckling when he wrote that Waterloo “shines with an aura worthy of victory”. Much of the chuckling was self-satisfied, no doubt - we have our share of conceited nationalists too.

Robinson said...

@Anonymous: the concern around Article 5 is that Russia will intervene in the Baltics in the way it has in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. Because - rashly no doubt - the Baltics have been admitted to NATO, that would be a grave threat to the alliance, and there would be real danger of a NATO / Russia war. In fact I think that Russia will be prudent enough not to risk war in the Baltics, and that if Russia *were* to send forces to the Russian speaking regions of those states, NATO would in fact betray its Article 5 commitment and *not* intervene. Baltic democracy is a splendid thing, but the Baltics were perhaps unwise to risk such an adversarial attitude towards Russia on the presumption of American military support.

Anyway, this was the reason for all of the heavy breathing about Trump, NATO and Article 5. (Also Montenegro, I suppose.) Not that Trump could find the Baltic Sea on a map.

Anonymous said...

@robinson

That seems to me an accurate assessment of the situation. The demonization of Putin after the annexation of Crimea awakened a lot of cold war hysteria about Russian expansionism. Putin may not be very nice, but he is not an idiot. The military occupation of the Baltic states would be both imprudent and pointless. However, it is in the interest of NATO officials to play up the Russian threat to justify its existence.

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Lapinot said...

His first steps on the world stage seem to have been well placed. He's been quite unfazed by Trump and Putin and seems to have been welcomed with genuine warmth by Merkel and by Keïta.

Partly, of course, that's down to circumstances out of his control - Germany needs France more than it did, with poor relations with Russia and distanced from the US and UK. And maybe that will lead to the German government making concessions it wouldn't otherwise make.

But his combination of amiability and strength probably has a lot to do with it, too, both in Europe and in Africa. Early days etc. but it couldn't have gone much better. He gives the impression of being someone kind and moral enough to want to do well by others but also ruthlessness enough to carry out those wishes in the brutal field of international politics.

Michel Joseph said...

I find it a bit puzzling that there has not been a follow up barrage of tweets from trump attacking Macron either directly or indirectly. The affront was deliberate (Macron does not do things without calculating the probable impact) but the notoriously thin skinned narcissist has yet to react. Is it possible that E.M. has something on him?