Macron Visits the United States

30 November 2022

Emmanuel Macron is back in the United States for his second state visit. This time there will be no presidential arm-wrestling or lint-picking, and the speculation will not focus on the question of whether the quick-witted youthful Macron can flatter his lumbering, elderly counterpart into submission. The issues now are if anything more serious than they were in 2017, when Macron confronted an ascendant Donald Trump: the war in Ukraine, the possibility of global recession and US measures to counteract it, the climate crisis, relations with China, and the continuing challenge of authoritarian erosion of liberal democratic norms.

By all appearances, Macron intends to concentrate on the immediate economic issue to the detriment of more serious and intractable long-term challenges. There has been a good deal of saber-rattling in the French press about Biden’s “protectionism” and allegedly “America-first” industrial policy. The irony, of course, is that within Europe France is notorious for similarly promoting its own interests over those of its European partners: witness, most recently, France’s attempts to block the construction of a pipeline from Spanish ports to expedite shipments of natural gas across the continent. Furthermore, French complaints about US subsidies to semiconductor manufacturers and green energy producers ignore Macron’s own policy of granting tax credits to firms on the flimsiest evidence of investment in research and development. If the US is to meet its climate commitments, Biden’s measures are a necessary and long overdue first step, which France should applaud rather than hypocritically oppose.

On Ukraine, reports are that Macron will seek to impress on Biden the costs to EU economies of the ongoing war and gas embargo. What does he hope to obtain? Increased US pressure on Ukraine to negotiate with a Russia that has shown no signs of willingness to reciprocate? Greater recognition of Russian interests? Macron has previously called on the US not to “humiliate” Putin, but exactly what this would entail in practice has not been spelled out, and self-abasement on Europe’s part does not seem likely to compensate for the loss of face that Putin has already suffered because of his military’s poor showing in the wake of his ill-calculated aggression.

In short, I think Macron is playing a very weak hand and will obtain little from Biden beyond a show of solidarity and some rather honeyed rhetoric about the longevity of the “Franco-American couple” and the importance of maintaining close trans-Atlantic ties. Les chiens aboient, les caravanes passent.

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