(Bloomberg) -- For U.S. President Donald Trump, attending a French-run ceremony to commemorate World War I, a bloodletting that highlighted the value of allies and dangers of nationalism, was never going to be easy. By the time he flew home on Sunday he appeared isolated and, by some, scorned.
Trump arrived fresh off midterm elections where his party lost control of the House of Representatives even as he kept control of the Senate. A Twitter storm over his failure on Saturday to attend a commemoration service of Marines who died a century ago on the battlefields of France is unlikely to affect him domestically, with his backers and opponents already well entrenched.
Abroad, though, the equivalent of any modern U.S. president’s base -- the network of alliances built up through two World Wars and beyond -- appears more fragile. That’s a risk for a leader who may need their cooperation as he confronts China in a trade war and Iran over its foreign and nuclear policies.
The weekend exposed tensions with U.S. allies in Europe over Trump’s decision to pull out of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia, which has kept the continent free of theater-range nuclear missiles for more than 30 years.
Returning to Washington on Monday, Trump said he had accomplished a lot with the other leaders, but acknowledged tensions over his long-standing demands on trade and defense spending. “Never easy bringing up the fact that the U.S. must be treated fairly, which it hasn’t, on both Military and Trade,” he wrote in a flurry of tweets.
“We pay for LARGE portions of other countries military protection,.............hundreds of billions of dollars, for the great privilege of losing hundreds of billions of dollars with these same countries on trade. I told them that this situation cannot continue.”
It also underlined growing concerns over the reliability of U.S. security guarantees under Trump, and his wider commitment to a postwar international order the U.S. was largely responsible for building and has benefited from, including economically.
In Asia, Trump’s decision not to attend a pair of annual Asia summits this month -- the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Papua New Guinea and events hosted by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Singapore -- is set to heighten concerns over U.S. reliability among allies there. Vice President Mike Pence will attend in Trump’s place.
French President Emmanuel Macron peppered the field with diplomatic land-mines before Trump arrived in Paris, staging the weekend’s ceremonies to promote his own liberal and internationalist view of how the world should respond to the wave of nationalism that’s sweeping the U.S. and parts of Europe.
Even before the 60-plus heads of state and government hit town, Macron criticized Trump over the INF treaty withdrawal. Speaking to Europe 1 radio on Nov. 6, he repeated his calls for a “true European army’’ as part of a drive for greater Continental autonomy to defend against China, Russia -- and an increasingly unreliable U.S. Trump fired back on Twitter, moments after landing in Paris, describing the comment as “insulting.’’
The two leaders appeared to make up as the weekend got under way. But on Sunday, at the main ceremony to mark the signing of the World War I armistice 100 years ago, Macron again appeared to have Trump in his sights as he attacked nationalism.
“France was shown as the bearer of universal values during these dark hours, as the very opposite of a selfish nation that only looks after its own interest,” Macron said, using language that seemed to target Trump’s “America First policies.” Macron stood beside German Chancellor Angela Merkel as he spoke. “Nationalism,’’ he went on to say, “is a betrayal of patriotism.’’
Peace Forum Snub
The French leader also convened a “Paris Peace Forum” as part of the weekend’s ceremonies, drawing together international organizations and non-profits to discuss how to strengthen global governance.
Merkel, a fellow champion of liberal internationalist ideas, addressed the forum on Sunday, taking up some of the same themes.
“I want to speak of my concerns that are mixed in with today’s commemoration, the concern that national blinders are spreading again, that actions are taken as if to simply ignore our mutual dependencies, relationships and binding ties,’’ Merkel said. She went on to wonder if the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights could be adopted today, adding, “I fear, not.’’