The weekend away in Paris should not have been hard. For most politicians, events like the armistice commemoration represent an opportunity to project themselves as greater than the sum of their soundbites, above the political fray, sombre yet at their ease among world leaders as they look out across the century gone by. There are lofty prepared remarks and no questions.
For Donald Trump, that was a bridge too far. The trip to France got off to a bad start and kept getting worse. He landed with a tweet, directed against his host, Emmanuel Macron, and based on a mangling in the US press of something the French president had said, to make it sound like he wanted a European army to fend off the US, as well as China and Russia.
It was not what Macron said, but Trump fulminated anyway. “Very insulting,” he declared.
In a way, the US president had come to France by mistake. He had announced the trip in August after he declared that Washington’s municipal leaders wanted to over-charge for the military parade he had demanded.
He would go to the big parade in Paris, where he had been inspired by the display of military pageantry on 14 July festivities last year. But the French do parades for Bastille Day, not Armistice Day. This time there were no tanks and no marching bands.
After a few hours in a Paris hotel, the White House called off Trump’s attendance at the first memorial event of the weekend, at Belleau, where 2,000 US marines were killed. The ostensible reason for the sudden cancellation: rain.