France loves its military theatre. Sometimes to a fault. As the French army learned on Oct. 25, 1415, the pageantry of force is not the same as utility of force. That day, at Agincourt, a majestic force of French nobles faced a smaller, hungry, ill-equipped English army. Unfortunately for the French, its men-at-arms were forced to traverse a muddy field in heavy armor. By the time they reached the English lines, they were exhausted and pressed together, and the English simply hacked them down.
That incident was, of course, far from anyone's mind on Friday. At the invitation of his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, President Trump was given a front-row seat to the greatest of all military theaters: the annual Bastille Day parade through Paris. Trump loved it, too.
Throughout the two-hour parade, Trump frequently stood and clapped. At the start, when Trump saw an assembled U.S. military detachment leading the parade, he stood at solemn salute for around 90 seconds. At one point, watching a French Air Force flight overhead, Trump grabbed President Emmanuel Macron and said, "Wow!" Two-and-a-half hours into the parade, Trump was still reveling in the spectacle.
Watch, for example, Trump's reaction at the 2-hour, 34-minute, 37-second mark. Trump sees something and then beams with excitement. He then grabs Macron, and the two check the program together.
This exchange could have been a metaphor for the trip. Because for Trump, this was a highly successful foreign excursion.
First off, it's clear that Trump has built a close relationship with Macron. The first indication of this came on Thursday, when the two leaders held a press conference. Asked whether he stood by his previous criticisms of French counterterrorism security, Trump responded with unusual humility. He called Macron "a great president, a tough president." Trump then teased the French leader, saying, "You better do a good job."
In truth, especially on counterterrorism and Syria, Trump and Macron are forging a close and mutually beneficial relationship. In specific terms, we can expect France to increase its overt and covert deployment of special operations forces alongside the U.S. We should also expect French aircraft to join U.S. fighters, in the event that Assad again uses chemical weapons. Macron can also act as a tougher influence against Russia in Europe. Whatever her words, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is weak on Russia (of course, we must wait to see how Trump deals with Putin).
Trump's relationship with Macron is also positive in broader regards. For one, it forces other nations to take him more seriously. If Macron represents Trump's concerns to Merkel, the Germans will be more likely to listen. The relationship also helps Britain. Trump and Prime Minister Theresa May have a close relationship, but the Brexit negotiations are straining British relations with the European Union. Trump can now serve as an intermediary. Or, as he might put it, as a deal-maker.
Ultimately, this trip should give Trump confidence that he can lead U.S. interests abroad. In style and substance, he did a great job. And the French, never easy to impress, were clearly struck by his performance. In its editorial, the top center-left French broadsheet newspaper, Le Monde, offered a positive appraisal. Still, as he left Paris, Trump couldn't resist one last flourish. In a slight pushback to Macron's previous handshake (in which the French leader refused to let go of Trump's hand), Trump did exactly the same.