Dandruff diplomacy: Macron visits Washington

Published 27.04.2018 20:39

Macron probably achieved his goal of being the messenger of Europe and became the actor that warned the U.S. before it was too late to protect the system that it established

David McCullough in his book "The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris" tells the story of young Americans who traveled to Paris in the 1830s. The names, which will be critical actors in art, medicine and technology, spent a considerable amount of time in France and were influenced by the cultural and intellectual evolutions in Paris at that time. Nobody is stranger to such stories in the American cultural and intellectual life. McCullough's book focuses on the characters that played critical roles in the interaction between France and the U.S. in these particular years. However, there is a vast amount of literature about Americans who visited Paris in the following century. Following World War I, another group of writers and artists ended up in Paris. Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Archibald MacLeish were part of a group that Gertrude Stein called the "lost generation." They came to Paris and wrote their seminal books in the city while interacting with its vibrant cultural atmosphere. All of them remembered their days in Paris after their departure. Hemingway even wrote a book on his Paris years called "A Moveable Feast" and Fitzgerald in his letters describe their Paris days as the "golden days." Cole Porter wrote his best songs while he was in Paris. Of course the fascination was not always in one sided. In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville visited the U.S. and after traveling across the country, wrote a seminal manuscript on the society of the U.S. "Democracy in America" in a very short period of time became one of the most popular books and probably the most often quoted book on American society.This cultural and intellectual exchange between France and the U.S. has become one of the most significant anchors of policymakers who want to improve relations between the two countries. At the end of the day, the U.S. capital was designed by the French. Although the Louisiana Purchase and the role of Marquis de Lafayette in the Revolutionary War have never been forgotten, France's cultural impact gave the government of France a comfort zone to start conversations.

During French President Emmanuel Macron's recent Washington visit, everybody witnessed an obvious deployment of public diplomacy. The two leaders and first ladies posed for every photo to convince everybody they get along well. The tree ceremony in the White House, official ceremonies and state dinners were all organized in a way to show how important the bilateral relations are. Macron did not forget to tweet a quote from Alexis de Tocqueville. In press conferences and in front of the media, they avoided the tension of handshakes, which they had to deal with in their two previous meetings. Instead President Donald Trump demonstrated utmost diligence for his guest by cleaning dandruff off Macron's jacket. This well-choreographed series of ceremonies ended with Macron's address to Congress on Wednesday.

Macron used every possible cultural and historical reference in his introduction. He even referred to the hug shared by Voltaire and Benjamin Franklin in his speech. After stressing the friendship between the two countries, however, he made a series of arguments that directly challenged Trump and his policies. Listing climate change, the nuclear deal with Iran, economic nationalism and liberal international order, Macron contradicted his host. His message that followed the numerous cultural references was very clear. Basically, he provided historical background to convince everybody listening that he is talking as the president of a country which is historically a genuine friend of the U.S. He said without the U.S., liberal international order will not exist anymore and without this liberal international order, the world will be in chaos. He not only spoke against isolationism, but he also mentioned the significance of strong multilateralism. So for him, the U.S. should work with its traditional allies to quell the potential problems that may arise in the world. In this new fight, Macron made sure that France will partner with the U.S. and form a "special relationship," a term most often used to describe the U.S.-U.K. relationship. He tried to reinforce again and again that the U.S. is the architect of world order and needs to protect it from challenges instead of abandoning it.

It was a speech full of symbolic references. Even the timing was carefully picked as Gen. Charles de Gaulle spoke in Congress 58 years ago on the same day. In each and every Macron wanted to say that France is back. However because of the challenges the world faces and indecisiveness of the U.S., his role constantly changed throughout the visit. In Congress, he took on a role similar to the one played by Winston Churchill during World War II when he tried to convince Franklin D. Roosevelt the significance of the U.S.' involvement to the war. He tried to be the last defender of international liberal order, a role that belonged to Angela Merkel a few years ago. But more importantly, he tried to stress that he is the only one who can handle Trump. He seemed stress that he could not only establish a personal rapport but also policy convergence through friendly negotiations.It is not clear how much he achieved during his visit. His words about the U.S. and France developing a comprehensive strategy in regard to the stabilization of the Middle East is difficult to interpret given the lack of policy about Syria in the U.S. The fight against Daesh is probably the most significant common denominator between two countries' approaches in the Middle East, but Trump's insistence to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria is generating significant concern in France, as well. In regard to Iran, it is not clear what the new plan will be when Iran does not want to agree on any new conditions. Stopping ballistic missile tests or Iranian regional expansionism are frequently mentioned as the new conditions or policies that the U.S. and France can agree on. Furthermore, in regard to the climate change, for now Trump just said, "We'll see what happens." But Macron probably achieved his goal of being the messenger of Europe and became the actor that warned the U.S. before was too late to protect the system that it established. He made sure that Congress understands this in case Trump refuses to heed his advice. Now Washington will host another European leader, Angela Merkel, this week and we will see if she can convince Trump about critical policy areas. Macron did his best. Cultural diplomacy and the history of intellectual exchange with dandruff diplomacy can achieve only so much.

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