President Trump unleashed verbal attacks Tuesday on French President Emmanuel Macron, taking aim at his approval rating, his country’s employment rate, its trade policies on wine and his vision for the military.
The broadside on Twitter escalated a spat that began Friday when Trump took umbrage at Macron’s call in a radio interview for a “true European army” so that the continent can defend itself without relying on the United States.
Tensions between the two leaders continued over the weekend at events in Paris commemorating the end of World War I, with Macron delivering a speech that many saw as a rebuke of Trump’s self-imposed “nationalist” label.
In the first of several barbs Tuesday on Twitter, Trump again misrepresented what Macron had said during last week’s radio interview and reminded him of the U.S. military’s role in aiding France in World War I and II.
“Emmanuel Macron suggests building its own army to protect Europe against the U.S., China and Russia,” Trump wrote. “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.”
In the interview with French radio station Europe 1, Macron called for a “true European army” in part so that the continent would not have to rely on the United States for defense. He noted that Russia “is at our borders” and said he would like to “start a security dialogue” with the nation.
In another part of the interview, Macron said that Europe has to protect itself “with respect to China, Russia and even the United States.” But in that portion of the radio interview, Macron was actually referring to cybersecurity matters and fading multilateralism, rather than the military.
Trump also inaccurately summarized Macron’s comments when he initially tweeted about them Friday while on Air Force One arriving in Paris. Trump said he found Macron’s comments “very insulting” and said that France should “first pay its fair share of NATO.”
In his tweet on Tuesday, Trump again referenced France’s spending, writing: “Pay for NATO or not!”
Trump has long been irritated at countries in the NATO alliance that do not spend at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on their militaries, claiming that the United States has had to subsidize the defense spending of other nations.
In a speech at the World War I commemoration, Macron delivered a forceful rebuke against rising nationalism, calling it a “betrayal of patriotism” and warning against “old demons coming back to wreak chaos and death.”
While his words were intended for a global audience, they also were widely seen, in part, as a rebuke of Trump, who recently described himself as a “nationalist.”
Trump referenced Macron’s remarks during Tuesday’s tweetstorm.
“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!” Trump added, in a play on his campaign slogan.
The poll Trump referenced was from last month. Another recent poll put Macron’s approval rating a little higher. France’s unemployment rate is about 9 percent.
In another tweet Tuesday, Trump complained of a trade disparity suggesting that it makes it harder for U.S. winemakers to sell their products in France.
“On Trade, France makes excellent wine, but so does the U.S.,” the president wrote. “The problem is that France makes it very hard for the U.S. to sell its wines into France, and charges big Tariffs, whereas the U.S. makes it easy for French wines, and charges very small Tariffs. Not fair, must change!”
Trump made no mention of the winery he owns in Charlottesville, which he bought at a foreclosure auction in 2011 and is now run by his son Eric.
Trump’s burst of tweets came on the anniversary of coordinated terrorist attacks on Nov. 13, 2015, in France — a very solemn occasion in the country.
The French government declined to comment on Trump’s tweets.
Following Trump’s Tuesday attack, German Chancellor Angela Merkel came to Macron’s defense, echoing his initial call for a “real European army.”
“We want to work on the vision of eventually creating a real European army,” Merkel said in a speech to the European Parliament. Her remarks implied that such a project would not be pursued imminently. But a European army, Merkel said, would “show the world that there will never again be war between the European countries.”
In a stab at Trump, Merkel said that the times when Europe could rely on others were “simply over.”
“Old allies cast doubts over tried and tested ties,” she said, likely referring to the United States.
Trump also sought to explain Tuesday why he had skipped a scheduled tour over the weekend of a military cemetery for Americans, while other world leaders publicly paid homage to those who died on the battlefield. The White House’s stated reason — the rainy weather — has prompted some mocking of Trump in both the United States and France.
“By the way, when the helicopter couldn’t fly to the first cemetery in France because of almost zero visibility, I suggested driving,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Secret Service said NO, too far from airport & big Paris shutdown. Speech next day at American Cemetery in pouring rain! Little reported-Fake News!”
François Heisbourg, a former French presidential adviser on national security and terrorism, said Trump’s use of the word “insulting” in an initial tweet Friday was “the greatest possible accusation” in international discourse.
“I can’t imagine that Trump was escalating to that level,” said Heisbourg, now chairman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies Council.
Heisbourg also criticized Trump for misquoting Macron with regard to needing protection from United States.
“The deliberate misquote by Trump — that’s serious, that’s real,” Heisbourg said. “He chooses to tweet that the alliance is a cash machine. That is apparently for Trump the only meaning of the word ‘alliance.’ ”
James McAuley reported from Paris. David Nakamura in Paris contributed to this report.