French President Emmanuel Macron presented himself as the globalist “anti-Trump” in his speech at the United Nations on Tuesday, speaking in direct opposition to the U.S. president’s pro-sovereignty theme.
Point by point, the French president advanced positions contrary to those of Mr. Trump, countering Trump’s “America first” nationalism with the slogan “independence today lies in interdependence.” According to members of his entourage, Mr. Macron modified his address at the last moment to respond directly to Mr. Trump’s words.
During the course of his speech, Trump mentioned sovereignty 21 times, while Macron employed the word only twice, peppering his address instead with talking points like multilateralism, climate change, and immigration.
“Our success depends on a coalition of strong and independent nations that embrace their sovereignty to promote security, prosperity, and peace for themselves and for the world,” Trump said in his address.
“We are irremediably linked to one another in a community of destinies for today and tomorrow,” Macron countered. “The world balance has profoundly changed in recent years and the world has become once again multipolar, which means we must relearn the complexity of dialogue, as well as its fruitfulness.”
For both Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump, the 72nd General Assembly of the UN in New York represented their first opportunity to address the international body as leaders of their respective countries. Taking advantage of the absence of German chancellor Angela Merkel, Macron staked his claim as the de facto leader of the liberal, globalist world.
Regarding North Korea, Macron insisted on the pressure of sanctions and the necessary involvement of Moscow and Beijing to force Pyongyang to sit at the negotiating table. At the podium, he recalled his opposition to military escalation, “because the map shows all the complexity of a military intervention.”
“The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” Trump declared. “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”
In reply, Macron said that “France will resist all escalation and will close no door to dialogue if conditions exist for this dialogue to promote peace.”
The French President also took a stance on Iran diametrically opposed to that of his American counterpart, declaring that renouncing the Iranian nuclear agreement would be a “big mistake.”
According to President Trump, the Iran deal “was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into. Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States, and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it—believe me.”
“Our commitment to non-proliferation has resulted in a strong, robust agreement to verify that Iran will not acquire nuclear weapons,” Macron countered. “Denouncing it would be a big mistake, not respecting it would be irresponsible—because it is a good agreement that is essential to keeping peace at an hour where the risk of a hellish spiral can’t be discounted.”
On the immigration question, Macron spoke poetically, declaring that “the migrant has become the symbol of our times, the symbol of a world where no barrier can oppose the march of despair if we do not transform the roads of necessity into roads of freedom.”
“These migrations are political, climatic, and ethnic,” the French President said. “These are always roads of necessity.” He also said that “it is not walls that will protect us,” in reference to Mr. Trump’s promise of constructing a border wall between the United States and Mexico.
Trump, on the other hand, took a far more pragmatic approach, examining the short and long-term costs of mass migration, and its ties to “international criminal networks.”
“For decades, the United States has dealt with migration challenges here in the Western Hemisphere. We have learned that, over the long term, uncontrolled migration is deeply unfair to both the sending and the receiving countries,” he said.
“For the sending countries, it reduces domestic pressure to pursue needed political and economic reform, and drains them of the human capital necessary to motivate and implement those reforms,” he said. “For the receiving countries, the substantial costs of uncontrolled migration are borne overwhelmingly by low-income citizens whose concerns are often ignored by both media and government.”
Macron likewise took a predictably hardline position regarding the Paris climate accord (a topic Trump didn’t even mention), refusing to entertain the possibility of renegotiating the agreement.
While declaring that he “deeply respect(ed) the decision of the United States” to withdraw from the agreement, Macron insisted that the accord “will not be renegotiated, it binds us” before adding, that “we will not back down.”
“The future of the world is that of our planet, which is on course to take vengeance on the foolishness of men,” Macron said. “The planet will not negotiate with us.”
The UN event provided an opportunity for the world to get a good look at the profound differences among the visions of its member states, none deeper, perhaps, than that separating Trump’s populist nationalism from Macron’s globalism.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter Follow @tdwilliamsrome