This week’s NATO summit in England was always going to be a tense affair after the French president called the defense alliance “brain dead” last month. However, while Macron and his allies could have made an effort to calm things down, they seem determined to keep pouring gas on the flames. President Trump has an uphill struggle to keep NATO heading in the right direction, but he’s been giving it a good try.
France has always been one of NATO’s more difficult members — for most of the Cold War, the country refused to even be part of the alliance’s military command structure. Now they’re at it again.
- French President Emmanuel Macron is trying to set up an EU defense alliance that would compete with NATO despite sharing most of the same members. France has always had a problem playing second fiddle to anyone, but inside NATO the dominance of US military power means Paris will always be a second-tier player — at best.
- However, with Britain set to leave the EU next January, that would leave France as the most powerful member of a European alliance. The chance to be top dog clearly appeals to Macron’s vanity and is probably behind his attacks on the alliance and America’s role in it.
- There are practical issues hidden behind the nationalistic bombast, though. One of them is the fate of foreign jihadis trapped in the wreckage of the Islamic State. France has a large Muslim minority — almost 9% of the population — and at least 1,700 of them traveled to Iraq or Syria to join ISIS. Several hundred of them are still alive — and France doesn’t want them back.
- President Trump has been urging European states to take responsibility for their treacherous citizens, and repatriate them to face trial. On Tuesday, he repeated that request to Macron’s face.
- Teasingly, the president asked Macron, “Would you like some nice ISIS fighters? I can give them to you. You can take every one you want.”
- Macron doesn’t seem to have been amused. He replied, “Let’s be serious,” then went on to say that renegade Europeans are a “tiny proportion” of ISIS. That’s actually true — but there are still thousands of them and they need to be dealt with.
- Trump later said of Macron, “This is why he is a great politician because that was one of the greatest non-answers I have ever heard, and that’s OK.” The reality is that it’s not OK, because it looks as if Europe will carry on refusing to take responsibility for its jihadis while complaining bitterly about “human rights” every time a US missile kills one of them.
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