A new British prince was born this week, yet Americans — those in politics and security, at least — were off gettin’ hot with the French. (Sorry, Charlie.) With notable pomp, France’s President Emmanuel Macron walked with President Trump across the White House lawn, past U.S. troops staged for the cameras. It marked a new era for the power couple. No, not Macron and Trump; rather, for the United States and France.
For the moment, the “special relationship” with Great Britain has faded into memory. While the U.S. president has been told, in essence, to stay home from a London visit, France is now America’s most-talked-about and visible partner in the Trump era. Even discounting the political theater, France may be Washington’s most important security partner against terrorism. From the hearts of European cities to the deserts across the Middle East and North Africa, U.S. and French security forces are operating more closely than ever.
“I also want to thank President Macron for France’s vital contribution to our very successful campaign against ISIS,” Trump said to Macron, at Tuesday’s White House press conference. It’s not a partnership that started with Trump. But with the American president alienating many other world leaders, his working relationship with Macron, who is as willing as Trump to fête and be fêted, is signaling that no ally in Europe, or the world, perhaps matters as much to the White House than Paris.
Pause to put this moment into perspective and think about how politics can influence national security. Just 15 years ago, Republican leaders in Washington snidely disparaged the French because they refused to follow Americans blindly into the Iraq War. The GOP stoked among Americans a ridiculous hate of all-things-French for pure political gain. They — and this is not a mock headline from The Onion — had the cafeteria menus in Congress change “french fries” to “freedom fries.” It was calculated, short-sighted, petty, and disrespectful to the French armed forces. But disparaging a staunch NATO ally worked — in that it helped rile up their followers and make it harder for anyone to question President George W. Bush and his administration in an era where “support the troops” meant “support the president’s politics.” And it went on for years. When then-Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., ran for president in 2004, he was derided by congressional Republicans as a private-school elite who spoke French (gasp!) When Kerry became President Obama’s secretary of state, they jabbed him for spending so much time at the U.S. embassy in Paris.
How times have changed. Now some of those same congressional Republicans Tuesday night will sit at a state dinner hosted by Donald Trump, who is the king…