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Emmanuel Macron’s Bromance With Trump Takes Its Toll at Home

PARIS — President Emmanuel Macron’s warm embrace of the American president, replete with hand-holding, hugs and dandruff dusting, has come back to haunt the young French leader and open him to searing criticism from political opponents at home.

The lavish show of friendship with an American president who is deeply unpopular in France has cost Mr. Macron, whose support was already wobbling over perceptions that his policies have favored the rich. Mr. Macron’s unrequited pleas for policy shifts from Mr. Trump are perceived as failures, and more than half of those surveyed in a poll last weekend disapproved of his gushy performance, for which he got nothing in return.

The price to Mr. Macron’s standing has now been compounded by Mr. Trump’s decision last week to withdraw from the Iran accord, after Mr. Macron went to Washington last month, in part to try to persuade the American president to preserve it.

France “prostituted itself” and “humiliated itself in its relations with the U.S.,” Daniel Fasquelle, a member of Parliament from a center-right party in the opposition, told reporters in the halls of the Assemblée Nationale last week in the wake of Mr. Trump’s decision on Iran.

Another lawmaker, Clémentine Autain, on the left, told the journalists, “France favors a partner which happens to be a dangerous partner for world peace.”

“France should bang its fist on the table,” she said, “rather than go courting Donald Trump.”

Mr. Macron’s enthusiastic outreach to Mr. Trump is being contrasted unfavorably with the far cooler approach of other European leaders, like Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, and his predecessors in the French presidency, who kept the Americans at arm’s length.

In addition to striking out on the Iran nuclear deal, Mr. Macron previously got nothing from Mr. Trump on climate change, and he has yet to win permanent exemptions on steel tariffs. As far as many French are concerned, he is zero for three.

“Macron’s alignment with Trump is a catastrophe,” said Patrick Cassan, a civil servant interviewed in the mixed-income 19th Arrondissement of Paris. Mr. Macron was “not only incapable of saying no” to Mr. Trump, he “served as his dishrag,” he said.

Others were equally disapproving of all the hugging and backslapping. “These gestures were like signs of vassalage,” with Mr. Macron playing the part of the serf, said J. C. Icart, a retired writer for scientific journals, interviewed outside the arrondissement’s City Hall. “In the feudal system, you showed your allegiance by this kind of touching.”

Mr. Macron’s attitude toward Mr. Trump was rejected by 55 percent of respondents in a poll conducted by Odoxa for Le Figaro, one of France’s two leading daily newspapers. The American president’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear agreement with Iran was disapproved by three-quarters of those polled.

“The president is perceived as having failed in his strategy in regard to Donald Trump,” the polling company said.

Some were more forgiving of Mr. Macron, but not entirely. “He fought hard for the Iran accord. You can’t criticize him for that,” said Nicole Bacharan, an analyst of American-French relations formerly at the Hudson Institute. “He tried.”

“On the other hand, many people in France were uneasy with these physical gestures,” she added. “The hugs seemed a bit immoderate, given the situation.”

True, Mr. Macron’s speech to Congress was an oblique critique of Mr. Trump.

“I do not share the fascination for new strong powers, the abandonment of freedom and the illusion of nationalism,” he said in a veiled slap at his host.

But the recent poll suggests that the images from the days preceding the speech drowned out Mr. Macron’s words.

Odoxa, the polling firm, found that the words “sycophantic,” “painful” and “failure” were among the most frequently used on social media to describe the Macron-Trump relationship.

Shortly after Mr. Macron returned to France, Mr. Trump only rubbed salt in the wounds, telling a National Rifle Association convention that an armed bystander could have stopped the terrorist massacre at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris in 2015.

Mr. Trump’s remark drew cross-party scorn in France, and a sharp rebuke from the French Foreign Ministry. One Bataclan survivor invited Mr. Trump, on Twitter, to stick a handgun somewhere unprintable.

Meanwhile, Mr. Macron himself has shown signs of trying to create some distance after the fruitless trip to Washington.

“We’ve made the choice to build peace and stability in the Near and Middle East,” Mr. Macron said in a speech last week from Aachen, Germany, after accepting an award for his efforts in Europe. “Other world powers,” he added, not mentioning Mr. Trump by name, “just as sovereign as ourselves, have decided not to respect their own word.”

Afterward, he tried to explain his failure to university students in the German city.

“I’ve known him for a year. I have a lot of respect for him,” Mr. Macron said. “People know we have a warm relationship. But a warm relationship is not the relationship of a magician.”

To be sure, French officials were under few illusions before Mr. Macron’s trip to Washington that he could persuade Mr. Trump to stay in the Iran nuclear deal. But since the announcement of the withdrawal, they have expressed anger over American threats of sanctions against European companies, and the menace to France’s sovereignty.

A spokesman for Mr. Macron’s political movement in Parliament defended the French president’s tactile approach to Mr. Trump. The French president, he said, would never have gotten anywhere deploying the kind of strategy — reason and logic — that might have worked with President Obama.

“He used an emotional strategy” said Hervé Berville, who represents a district in Brittany. “With irrationality, you can deploy physical contact, touching.”

Others in Parliament, even some who have been critical of Mr. Macron in other domains, were inclined to give him a pass, too, given the difficulty of the target.

“I wonder about the ability of this head of state, or of any other, to have influence over Mr. Trump,” said Jean-Michel Clément, a member of Parliament who recently left the president’s political movement, La République en Marche, over its immigration stance.

“You can’t reproach the president of the republic for having put his best foot forward on these sensitive issues,” he added.

Mr. Macron, judging by his speech in Aachen last week, himself appears to have drawn one principal lesson from his encounter with the American president: the need for more muscular European unity.

“If we accept that other great powers, including allies, including friends who have been with us in the darkest hours, put themselves in the position of deciding for us our diplomacy, our security, while putting us at severe risk,” he said, “then we are no longer sovereign, and we can’t credibly face public opinion.”

Alissa Rubin contributed reporting.

Source: NYT > World

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