“Make France Great” seemed to be the mission of French president Emmanuel Macron while visiting the American president who had launched his electoral campaign on a similar slogan.
In truth, Macron aims at “making our planet great again,” as his office has put it, by embarking on a diplomacy that is closer to the American concept of “soft power,” a concept that is totally extraneous to Donald Trump’s imperious nationalistic instincts. And yet, one must recognize that Macron has been trying mightily to accomplish a “mission impossible,” by persuading President Trump that keeping the nuclear deal with Iran alive is beneficial for the planet, including America.
The agenda of the French president is worthy of consideration, and certainly of respect because it recognizes that the vision of Europe is an integral part of his diplomatic strategy. The question is: will Europe stand behind him? The answer can come almost exclusively for the next visitor to Washington, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has a difficult task ahead of herself: to tell the American president that Europe is univocal in maintaining the nuclear deal, no matter how preposterous the threat uttered by Trump when he said: “if Iran threatens us in any way, they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid.”Realistically, there is no way that Iran can threaten the national interests of the United States. Tehran may threaten Israel but Iran is no match for a country that has stockpiled several hundred nuclear bombs, and that is chomping at the bit to level Iranian installations in Syria, if not within Iran itself.
By itself, France cannot act as a great power independently from Europe and, for that matter, from the United States. However, recent events have allowed Macron to fill the void in the hot spots of international confrontation and especially in those areas where Trump’s America has relinquished its responsibilities, starting with the Paris agreements for climate control. As it appears that Trump is implementing a course of partial and selective disengagement in the Middle East, Macron’s France is well poised to play the role of mediator with Russia, owing also to the fact that unlike Germany or Italy it is less dependent on Russian energy. The French “soft power” is just as significant at a time when the German chancellor has lost power internally and has suffered a downturn of that country’s external political projection.
Given the instability of the Middle East cauldron and the impossibility to predict, much less evaluate, the possible consequences of Trump’s fickle bombastic behavior in the confrontation with Iran, the European allies would be well advised to think about their major predicament: how to revive a sense of European universalism – as Macron is trying to do – that is opposed to new international “doctrines” ranging from the American neo-isolationist impulses to the authoritarian nationalistic course of Putin’s Russia.
Much more than Trumpian indifference about Europe, a frame of mind that harbors no desire to accept Macron’s plea about Iran, what is at stake in Europe is the will to surmount the crisis of trust in the European institutions and its elites. For all the show of “bromance” between Trump and Macron, and perhaps in lesser measure with the German chancellor, it is unlikely that President Trump will accommodate the opening of European diplomacy. The question then becomes how much the Europeans will surrender, agreeing to a “package” of concessions with the full knowledge that the Iranians will not accept it. The mystifying thing about it is that Trump will lose nothing in the bargain, since even a decision to maintain the status quo will be looked upon not as a loss of face, but as just another odd pronouncement in the wildly fluctuating behavior of the American president.