Witcover: Romancing Trump, Macron shows his own skill at the art of the deal

Donald Trump and Melania greet the Macrons as they visit the White House.

Holding hands, the old song tells us, is nice work if you can get it. French President Emmanuel Macron apparently got it with Donald Trump during his visit here last week, visibly cozying up to him as television cameras recorded their bromance for all to see.

It was a rare display of elegance outshining crudity. Mr. Macron sat benignly as our inelegant president brushed what he said was a flake of dandruff from his French visitor's shoulder, as if he was a schoolboy being sent off to the fourth grade.


In a lapse into more customary Gallic affection, they exchanged cheek pecks with each other and with their attractive wives, as they and other glitzy guests and diplomats dined under White House chandeliers. It may not have been Mar-a-Lago, but it was the best Mr. Trump could offer at his home away from home.

But when the scene shifted to Capitol Hill on Wednesday with Mr. Macron's speech to Congress, he seemed to recognize he was being given an opportunity to address a less politically partisan audience. That, too, was nice work for him to get, and he didn't hesitate to express his differences with his absent admirer.

He offered an unvarnished defense of multilateralism within the post-Cold War architecture of Western Europe, to which his own country clings in the shaky era of Brexit, threatening the solidarity of the European Union.

Arguing that American commitment to the Western alliance must remain "an essential part of our confidence in the future," Mr. Macron declared that "this is a time for determination and courage. What we cherish is at stake. What we love is in danger. We have no choice but to prevail, and together we shall prevail."

He spoke in the context of Mr. Trump's withdrawal from the Paris accords on climate change in the early weeks of his presidency. "Some people think that securing current industries and their jobs is more urgent than transforming our economics to meet the challenge of global change," Macron said, mentioning no names.

Continuing in this disagreement with Mr. Trump, he went on: "I hear ... but we must find a transition to a low-carbon economy. What is the meaning of our life, really, if we work and live destroying the planet, while sacrificing the future of our children?"

The charismatic French president also nudged Mr. Trump to engage in his differences with trade partners, notably China, through negotiations within the World Trade Organization. "We wrote these rules," he said. "We should follow them," noting that France and other EU nations are asking for exemptions from the steel and aluminum tariffs Mr. Trump intends to impose next month.

Mr. Macron also argued that the West needed to combat "isolationism, withdrawal and nationalism" and further "shape our common answers to the global threats we are facing." Regarding the Iran nuclear deal that Mr. Trump has threatened to break, he reiterated his support, saying flatly: "Our objective is clear. Iran shall never possess any nuclear weapons. Not now. Now in five years. Not in 10 years. Never." The chamber rose in applause.

Nevertheless, Mr. Macon added, " this policy should never lead us to war in the Middle East. Let us not replicate past mistakes. ... Let us not be naive on one side. ... Let us not create new wars on the other side." He noted that both the United States and France have signed the deal on monitoring Iran's quest for nuclear weapons. "That is why we cannot say we should get rid of it like that."

In the meantime, he said: "Let's share the disagreements. I don't see it in my interest, in French interests, to just say I disagree with you and I don't want to speak with you. It's ridiculous. It's best to say we've been partners for a long time. We are allies."

It sounded like a French version of the art of the deal. Whether it will work with the man who claims to have invented it remains to be seen, regarding climate change, trade and Iran, between these two hand-holding kissing cousins.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is