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Opinion Macron knows U.S. foreign policy is always about Trump

French President Emmanuel Macron. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)
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French President Emmanuel Macron seems to have figured out President Trump lacks a deep understanding of the world, has no clear ideology and is driven by his narcissistic personality. Faced with the choice between lecturing Trump and manipulating Trump’s giant, predictable personal neediness, Macron chose the latter. The Europeans dearly hope that was a wise choice. They are counting on Macron to navigate through the choppiest period of U.S.- European relations in decades.

The Post reports:

The special bond that seems to have developed between the 71-year-old American president and Macron, a 40-year-old political novice elected just a year ago, is no accident. While [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel is clearly turned off by Trump, and British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Parliament and population have indicated they don’t even want him to visit, Macron has gone far out of his way to cultivate him.  . . .
“Macron is doing this because he knows that he has to be close to our closest ally, the president of the most powerful country in the world. It’s in our interest to have a good relationship. He doesn’t go as a friend,” the official said.

Ironically, the greatest con man ever elected to the presidency, actually does believe in the bromance — just as Trump thinks Chinese President Xi Jinping is his friend. For Trump, it’s never about the substance; it is about how he is treated by a foreign leader. China gave him the biggest welcome ever; hence Xi is his friend. Saudi Arabia wines and dines him (with dancing and a glowing orb) ; hence Saudi Arabia is our friend. He never imagines he’s been insincerely praised or that the pomp he delights in is standard fare for American presidents.

There are two problems with Trump’s personalization of our national security, both for the United States and our allies.

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First, authoritarian, illiberal leaders are very good at manipulation too. Trump declares he believes Vladimir Putin knew nothing about manipulating our election. Those who worry that Trump will be deceived by Kim Jong Un have a point: Trump seems unable to believe flattery is insincere or that world leaders view Trump as an erratic buffoon whose bluff can be called.

Second, when legitimate differences between the United States and allies arise, our allies have to be very clever and very tricky. They must convince Trump he’s a genius and it’s really his idea to do what they want (e.g. stay in the Iran deal with some largely cosmetic changes).

Macron should not bother explaining what is actually in the Iran deal or the Paris accord. He shouldn’t bother to explain the ramifications of U.S. isolation in the event Trump wants out of the Iran deal.  Trump won’t absorb such arguments or won’t care or worse will get annoyed with Macron. Better for Macron to tell Trump his strategy is amazing — and working! The Post reports:

According to officials involved in the U.S.-European talks, significant progress has been made on addressing concerns about the deal’s sunset clauses, its verification rules, and the absence of restrictions on Iranian ballistic missile testing and development, as well as new measures to counter Iran’s “malign” activities in Syria and beyond in the Middle East. Four documents have been drafted that they believe are responsive to Trump’s criticisms.
An overall declaration and three sub-texts are to outline their joint understanding that other international conventions will prohibit Iran from developing nuclear weapons beyond restrictions that expire in the next decade; push the International Atomic Energy Agency to expand its monitoring; and promise strict sanctions if Iran moves forward with intercontinental ballistic missile development.

None of this actually changes the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. (We cannot of course do so without Iran’s agreement.)  In fact, the United States has long argued that when the sunset clause expires, the U. N.’s Nuclear Prohibition Treaty (NPT) is insufficient to contain Iran’s nuclear ambition; but now, the allies hope, this will be good enough for Trump. Promising new sanctions if Iran moves forward with its ICBM program is, well, what we’ve been doing since Iran started testing. None of this much matters to Trump so long as he is convinced he’s the genius negotiator behind these “gains,” which no one but he could have obtained. Whatever. (Unfortunately what is not being discussed is what actually might work — stepped-up efforts on the ground to check Iran’s regional aggression, as well as sanctions on the country for its miserable human rights record.)

That Macron manages to subsume any disdain for Trump is a testament to his skills as a politician and desire to do what is best for his country. We should hope it works because, truth be told, we have no Plan B if Trump reimposes sanctions, the Europeans remain in the deal and Iran resumes its nuclear weapons program.

That sobering thought should spur lawmakers, the remaining competent advisers (we’re down to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, it seems) and cagey allies to pray Macron is successful.

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