Trump ditches WWI ceremony amid tensions
- October 9, 2019
- By Admin: Stephen Bergh
- Comments: 00
US President Donald Trump came under fire on Saturday after cancelling a visit to an American World War I military cemetery in France because of rainy weather.
Mr Trump, who is in France for commemorations marking the centenary of the end of the war, and his wife Melania were to have flown by helicopter to the Belleau Wood battlefield and cemetery where US Marines faced off against German forces in 1918.
“The President and First Lady’s trip to Ainse-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial has been cancelled due to scheduling and logistical difficulties caused by the weather,” a White House statement said.
Instead, Mr Trump sent his Chief of Staff General John Kelly and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joe Dunford in his place to the site, which lies 80 kilometres northeast of Paris.
Some saw Mr Trump’s no-show in Belleau Wood as a sign of disrespect to US soldiers who fought and died in the trenches.
More than 7000 were killed or wounded in the June 1918 battle at Bellau Wood and the cemetery contains the graves of 2289 war dead.
The visit was one of two Mr Trump had planned to war cemeteries on a weekend coinciding with Veterans Day in the United States.
‘FALLEN AMERICAN HEROES’
The cancellation drew derision from some critics, with several suggesting he was afraid of messing up his hair and others noting that the rain had not stopped French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel or Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau from visiting memorials.
“They died with their face to the foe and that pathetic inadequate @realDonaldTrump couldn’t even defy the weather to pay his respects to The Fallen,” tweeted Nicholas Soames, a British Conservative member of parliament and grandson of Winston Churchill.
“Donald Trump complained about having to stand in the rain, to speak about the massacre in Pittsburgh, because it messed his hair up (more),” the VoteVets veterans lobby group tweeted.
“Today, he will skip honouring fallen American heroes of WWI, and stay in his hotel room, because of some rain.”
Mr Trump was compared unfavourably by some to his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama.
“Unlike Trump, a little rain never stopped President Obama from honouring our fallen war heroes on Veterans Day,” former Pentagon official Adam Blickstein tweeted along with a picture of Mr Obama carrying a wreath at a rain-soaked remembrance ceremony.
But while some questioned why Mr Trump had not made the hour-long journey by road, White House insiders noted that organising a presidential motorcade, typically involving dozens of vehicles, would be a tall order at the last minute.
The WWI commemorations come at a watershed moment for the liberal post-war order, with anti-immigration populists at the helm in the US and Brazil, sharing power in Italy, and making strong gains in Germany, where Ms Merkel has announced her resignation in 2021 after a series of electoral setbacks.
On Saturday, she visited the site of Germany’s capitulation at the end of the World War I, the first German leader to do in 78 years.
The forest in Compiegne is doubly symbolic as Adolf Hitler chose the same train carriage in the same clearing to sign the surrender of the French on June 22, 1940 at the start of World War II.
Mr Macron, sporting a cornflower in his lapel — the French equivalent to Britain’s remembrance poppy — and Ms Merkel reviewed grey-clad soldiers from the Franco-German brigade, before unveiling a plaque to Franco-German reconciliation.
They also visited a replica of the carriage which was destroyed during World War II.
The visit underscored the close ties between two countries that fought three wars between 1870 and 1945 but are now seen as the linchpins of peace in Western Europe.
PLAYING DOWN DIVISIONS
Earlier, Mr Trump and Mr Macron tried to project unity after the US President had lashed out at one of America’s strongest allies in Europe, claiming Mr Macron insulted the United States when he pushed the idea of the continent having its own defence force.
The American and French leaders, who have had an up-and-down relationship, told reporters they were good friends before going behind closed doors for talks at the Elysee Palace.
It was Mr Trump’s first stop on a weekend trip to Paris where dozens of world leaders were gathering to commemorate Sunday’s 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.
Mr Macron, a centrist advocate of open borders and multilateralism, has repeatedly invoked the war in recent weeks to hammer home his message that rising nationalism is again destabilising the world.
The spat was the latest between the two leaders, who struck up a warm relationship initially but have clashed over a growing list of issues, including Mr Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the 2015 Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal.
He will host Mr Trump, Ms Merkel, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau, among others, for dinner at Orsay Museum on Sunday evening.
On Sunday morning, they will be joined by President Vladimir Putin of Russia for the main ceremony at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Paris, which will draw in 70 world leaders.
Before he’d even stepped off of Air Foce One and onto French soil, Mr Trump said he felt Mr Macron had “insulted” the US over comments Europe should build its own army.
“President Macron of France has just suggested that Europe build its own military in order to protect itself from the US, China and Russia,” the US president tweeted, referring to remarks made by Macron in an interview three days earlier.
“Very insulting, but perhaps Europe should first pay its fair share of NATO, which the US subsidises greatly!” he added.
In the interview, Mr Macron had cited Mr Trump’s plans to pull the US out of a Cold War-era nuclear treaty and said a joint European Union force was needed to end Europe’s reliance on US military might.
“We have to protect ourselves with respect to China, Russia and even the United States,” he said, listing various threats including cyberattacks.
During talks later at the Elysee Palace, Mr Macron said his call for greater European autonomy on defence was not intended as a snub towards the US and backed Mr Trump’s calls for EU members to boost their defence spending.
“We need a much better burden-sharing within NATO,” he said, patting his counterpart’s knee affectionately.
Mr Trump described himself and Mr Macron as “very good friends” and expressed support for “a strong Europe”.
The US leader has however ducked out of a peace conference Sunday in Paris, which Mr Macron and Ms Merkel intend to use as a platform for promoting multilateralism.