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Trump’s insults to France ‘unimaginable’ from predecessors, Harvard expert says

President Donald Trump escalated his verbal assaults against France on Tuesday.
President Donald Trump escalated his verbal assaults against France on Tuesday.

President Trump’s disparaging remarks on Twitter about France on Tuesday were highly unusual, considering France has been a US ally going back to the nation’s founding, an international relations expert said.

“Prior to this president [such remarks] would have been not just unusual but unimaginable, at least in the modern history of the country,” said Fredrik Logevall, an international affairs professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School who is a Pulitzer Prize-winning expert on US foreign relations history and 20th century international history.

“France has been enormously important as an ally — from the nation’s beginning. France played a vital supporting role during and after the American Revolution, and the bilateral relationship has been mutually beneficial at numerous other times,” Logevall said in an e-mail.


“Even Trump’s sullen, why-do-I-have-to-be-here demeanor during his visit to France would have been impossible to conceive under any predecessor I can think of,” Logevall said.

Kathryn Statler, a history professor at the University of San Diego who is writing a book on US-France relations, said, “If it hadn’t been for France, the United States would not exist.”

Trump, in a series of tweets Tuesday morning after a weekend visit to France, suggested that France would have been vanquished in World War I and World War II if not for the military firepower provided by the United States.

“They were starting to learn German in Paris before the U.S. came along,” Trump tweeted.

He also complained about tariffs on US wines in France, appeared to take a dig at French President Emmanuel Macron’s approval ratings, and appeared to defend his self-proclaimed nationalism by saying, “There is no country more Nationalist than France.”

Trump’s Twitter outburst came after he visited France to attend ceremonies to commemorate, along with other world leaders, the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. Trump drew criticism during the trip for skipping a visit to a ceremony at a war cemetery, citing travel issues because of the rain. (Trump claimed on Twitter Tuesday the Secret Service wouldn’t let him travel there.)


Trump, a self-proclaimed nationalist, also sat stone-faced through a speech in which Macron decried nationalism as a “betrayal of patriotism,” and warned of “old demons” resurfacing. Trump also skipped a peace forum attended by other leaders.

Observers say the visit revealed a widening rift between the US and Western allies.

Statler said the French-American alliance dated back to the American Revolution when the Marquis de Lafayette, and ultimately Louis XVI, came to the colonists’ aid, supplying money, weapons, and eventually troops.

The relationship has had some bumps in the road over the centuries, most recently after France refused to go along with the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

“Ultimately, though, France has been America’s longest-lasting, strongest, and most honest ally, and the Franco-American relationship will survive Donald Trump, as it has survived every other crisis, large and small, for the past 200+ years,” she said.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.