Witcover: Trump disappoints again on the world stage

President Trump's churlish participation in the recent 100th anniversary of the end of World War I was yet another glaring and dismissive example of his insensitivity to Western collective security as the core of American foreign policy.

Mr. Trump stayed in his Paris hotel room during a memorial ceremony at an American cemetery for the war's dead only 50 miles away because of rain that did not stop other Allied leaders from attending.

On Armistice Day, he did attend the ceremony at the nearby Arc de Triomphe at the foot of the Champs-Elysees, but he didn't join others in the procession there and later visited another U.S. cemetery at Suresnes, outside Paris.

Mr. Trump then flew home, skipping a peace forum organized by French President Emmanuel Macron.

At the Arc de Triomphe ceremony, Mr. Macron took the opportunity to rebuke as a "betrayal of patriotism" Mr. Trump's earlier stout defense of nationalism as a core of his own "America First" policy. Mr. Macron warned of "old demons coming back to wreak chaos and death."

The French president noted how millions of Allied soldiers defended the "universal values" of his own country and rejected the "selfishness of nations only looking after their own interests. Because patriotism is exactly the opposite of nationalism."

Mr. Macron went on to defend the United Nations and its "spirit of cooperation" that has "defended the common good of the world." Mr. Trump did not respond at the time.

Mr. Trump's quick trip to Paris was in sharp contrast to the memorable visit of President Woodrow Wilson one century earlier, when he was hailed as a conquering hero, having brought America into The Great War on the Allied side in 1917 after three years of rigid neutrality.

Signs of "Viva Wilson" greeted him everywhere as he took a victory lap of Western capitals and then led the American delegation in the negotiations for the Treaty of Versailles. In the end, however, Wilson failed to win Senate ratification of the treaty when a core of Republican "irreconcilables" led by Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts refused to accept the League of Nations demanded by the unyielding American president.

As for Mr. Trump today, he continues his conspicuous hostility toward the Western alliance, as seen in his running argument with NATO over its members' failure to meet their pledge to contribute 2 percent of their gross national product to defense spending. He also pursues individual trade deals with the members in keeping with his approach as a business tycoon.

With Mr. Trump's principal critic in the European Union, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, preparing to leave the political stage, Mr. Macron is emerging as Mr. Trump's most prominent and outspoken rival. This development is a far cry from earlier days, when Mr. Trump so openly admired Mr. Macron's stirring military parades that he tried -- and failed -- to stage one of his own to match the one in Paris that had so dazzled him.

Such is the state of world leadership and competition that has emerged in this almost childish, or at least sophomoric, presidency of Donald Trump, even as he continues his baffling and incomprehensible courtships of dictators in nuclear-armed Russia and North Korea.

It is one thing to have this manifestly unfit and corrupt head of state causing chaos in domestic matters at home. It is another entirely to continue to have him play the role of world leader unchecked on this much broader and more dangerous stage.

The midterm election results that put one legislative branch of our government into the hands of the opposition party have provided at least some opportunity for a modicum of political resistance and pushback against the one-man wrecking crew who has seized the reins of this great country, before matters get even worse for its preservation.

Jules Witcover's latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power," published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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