Why Macron (really) invited President Trump to Paris

PARIS -- When the French President invited the American one to Paris, it was, on the face of it, to commemorate a famous anniversary. But as CBS News senior foreign correspondent Mark Phillips reports, the visit is also another chapter in what's developing into a contest of wills between two leaders who are so similar, but so different.

President Donald Trump's relationship with Emmanuel Macron started with a famous handshake. The white-knuckled grasp wasn't just a customary show of friendship between world leaders; it looked more like an arm-wrestling contest. Who would blink first?

The unusually personal show of force was no accident. Francois Heisbourg, a foreign affairs expert with a Parisian think tank, says Macron "not only thought about it, but prepared for" the encounter, and had a purpose going into it.
 
The young French leader wanted to show "that he is able to do the job," Heisbourg tells CBS News. "The other thing, he's trying to do is to demonstrate to the world that France is back, that we're no longer an object of pity but a serious actor on the scene."

On the face of it, President Trump's two-day visit is to mark Bastille Day, France's big national holiday, which will be marked on Friday with a parade through Paris attended by both Macron and Mr. Trump.

It is also about commemorating the arrival of U.S. troops in the First World War 100 years ago -- an arrival that helped end the stalemate in the trenches and win the war. 

But the visit is full of meaning in today's tumultuous world, too.

The two presidents are similar in that they both broke the mold of establishment politics to win office in their respective countries. Their approach to the world's problems, however, could not be more different. 

Macron is an internationalist. He's a staunch believer in free trade and pushes a collective approach to cross-border issues, including combating climate change.

He was the most outspoken critic of President Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris Accords aimed at limiting global warming. "Make our planet great again," he quipped last month.

Inviting the U.S. president to Paris was not just a gesture of thanks for America's role in a war 100 years ago. It is being seen in France as an attempt, despite what Donald Trump has said, to keep the United States engaged today.

"The 100th anniversary of America's entry into the First World War is a beautiful way of reminding everybody on both sides of the Atlantic that there is a century of trans-Atlantic complicity which has been built up; Western Europe and the United States of America," says Heisbourg. "That's a strong message that goes well beyond Trump." 

Engaging in international affairs may be a distraction for an American president mired in domestic concerns, notes Phillips, but it may not last long. 

The visit will be over in just one more day.

  • Mark Phillips

    Mark Phillips is CBS News senior foreign correspondent, based in London.