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PARIS (Reuters) - President Donald Trump could not attend a commemoration in France for U.S. soldiers and marines killed during World War One on Saturday because rain made it impossible to arrange transport, the White House said.

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The last minute cancellation prompted widespread criticism on social media and from some officials in Britain and the United States that Trump had “dishonored” U.S. servicemen.

The president was scheduled to pay tribute at a ceremony at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in Belleau, about 85 km (50 miles) east of Paris, with his wife Melania. But light steady rain and a low cloud ceiling prevented his helicopter from traveling to the site.

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“(Their attendance) has been canceled due to scheduling and logistical difficulties caused by the weather,” the White House said in a statement, adding that a delegation lead by Chief of Staff John Kelly, a retired general, went instead.

The decision prompted a rash of criticism on Twitter, with Nicholas Soames, a British member of parliament who is a grandson of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill, saying that Trump was dishonoring U.S. servicemen.

“They died with their face to the foe and that pathetic inadequate @realDonaldTrump couldn’t even defy the weather to pay his respects to the Fallen”, Soames wrote on Twitter.

White House officials said the decision was taken due to the weather and cited security concerns in hastily arranging a motorcade. Similar concerns prevented Trump from reaching the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea a year ago when foggy weather prevented his helicopter from landing.

Ben Rhodes, who served as deputy national security adviser for strategic communications under President Barack Obama, said the excuse about the inclement weather did not stand up.

“I helped plan all of President Obama’s trips for 8 years,” he wrote on Twitter. “There is always a rain option. Always.”

Despite the light rain, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel held a moving ceremony in Compiegne, northeast of Paris, to mark the 100th anniversary of the signing of the World War One armistice.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended his own ceremony to pay tribute to Canadian troops killed at Vimy Ridge, on the battlefields of northeastern France.

Around 70 leaders, including Trump, are scheduled to gather at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on Sunday morning to mark the commemoration of the centenary of the end of the war, when some 10 million soldiers were killed during four years of grinding conflict.

It was not clear what Trump decided to do instead of attending the cemetery. The White House said he was at the residence of the U.S. ambassador in Paris. During that time he sent a tweet wishing a “Happy 243rd Birthday” to the U.S. Marine Corps.

The president is scheduled to take part in a ceremony at the Suresnes American Cemetery to the west of Paris on Sunday afternoon, when he is expected to make formal remarks.

FRANCE IS NOT HAPPY WITH T-RUMP — First it was a second-place replacement for his own grand military parade. Then it was a stately gesture to illustrate an alliance he’s done little to cultivate. After a midterm election drubbing, it was an opportunity to retreat and regroup.

Yet by the time US President Donald Trump departed Orly Airport on Sunday, 44 hours after he arrived, the reasons for his trip to Paris had become largely obscured. It did less to bolster the transatlantic partnership than to expose its cracks. The 3,800 miles the President put between himself and Washington did little to buffer the boiling political crisis's back home.

And it was decidedly gloomier then the procession of tanks and troops Trump originally envisioned rolling through Washington on this date more than a year ago.

Officials scrambled to put something together and set a tentative date of November 11. But when estimates for Trump’s military parade soared to nearly $100 million, officials realized they needed a backup plan to convince Trump a parade was too exorbitant. In the end, they persuaded him that dozens of other world leaders would be in Paris for the commemoration, and he needed to be, too.

But if Trump came to Paris expecting a parade that echoed the one he witnessed last summer, he was disappointed. The events commemorating the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I were solemn and stately, and the wet streets of Paris were largely empty as the procession got underway Sunday. 


As early as Saturday afternoon, the reasons for Trump to be in Paris at all had become obscured. Homebound at the US ambassador’s residence after foul weather forced the cancellation of a trip to an American burial ground, the President was invisible as his European counterparts memorialized the World War I slaughter across the former Western Front.

The White House declined to say how he spent the empty hours, though Trump tweeted in the evening he’d had “some very productive meetings and calls for our country today.”   ( others called it bullsh*t)

The dire political predicament weighing on Trump cannot have been far from mind, despite the thousands of miles separating Paris and Washington.   Fresh off a midterm election that cost his party control of the House of Representatives, Trump kept an eye on his domestic difficulties while abroad. He accused election officials of rigging the vote in two US Senate races, repeated his claim that he does not personally know the man he tapped to become the acting attorney general and threatened to cut federal aid while blaming the deadly wildfires in California on “poor” forest management

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly visits the Aisne Marne American Cemetery near the Belleau Wood battleground, in Belleau, France, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. Belleau Wood, 90 kilometers (55 miles) northeast of the capital, It is the place where US troops had their breakthrough battle by stopping a German push for Paris shortly after entering the war in 1917. 

Officially, the reason for scrapping the journey to the Aisne-Marne American cemetery came down to safety: the President’s Marine One helicopter cannot fly in low cloud cover, a decision that is made by military and security officials and not the President. But there did not appear to be a backup plan and the President did not make any statements of regret at not being able to visit the cemetery. 

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LAZY INCONSIDERATE BASTARD —  Late Sunday, the White House defended the President’s decision not to attend, citing concerns about disrupting traffic.   “A car ride of two-and-a-half hours, each way, would have required closures to substantial portions of the Paris roadways for the President’s motorcade, on short notice,” said press secretary Sarah Sanders. “President Trump did not want to cause that kind of unexpected disruption to the city and its people.”

The optics were undeniably bad, partly because the episode only appeared to confirm the suspicions of Trump’s critics that he is uninterested in carrying out the traditional duties of the commander in chief. While reasonable-sounding to those familiar with presidential travel logistics, the White House’s explanations for the cancellation appeared inauthentic to casual observers. 

White House officials were confident early Sunday that those criticisms would evaporate after the President’s appearance at the Suresnes American Cemetery and Memorial, where more than 1,500 American soldiers are buried. His remarks, they said, would be the highlight of the trip. Trump addressed the crowd mutedly for roughly 10 minutes before leaving for the airport. 

If the weather imbroglio was concerning him, it did not show.  “You look so comfortable up there under shelter as we’re getting drenched,” he called out to a group of American veterans. “You’re very smart people.”

NATIONALISM IN THE CROSSHAIRS  —  Earlier Sunday, as world leaders gathered under misting rain at the Élysée Palace, Trump opted to head directly to the Arc de Triomphe, where the ceremony was being held. Driving down a deserted Champs-Élysées, a topless female protester breached the barricade lining the famous Parisian avenue and came within feet of the President’s motorcade before she was apprehended by French security officials. 

The dozens of other leaders who met at the French President’s residence beforehand arrived in coach buses moments later, leaving Trump out of a striking scene as they marched down the street together with black umbrellas held over their heads, led by Macron. The White House said the President arrived separately because of “security protocols.”    Russian President Vladimir Putin also arrived separately and flashed Trump a thumbs up before taking his place on the riser. 

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The imagery may have been rooted in logistics, but as France and its European partners fret about the alliance forged with the United States in bloody conflict a century ago, it mattered. Trump has shown little appetite for strengthening the relationships that have underpinned transatlantic relations since the end of World War I, instead lambasting traditional US partners on trade and the cost of security.

He’s shown more affinity for strongmen leaders who have eroded democracy in their countries, like Putin, with whom he spoke at a lunch on Sunday, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who sat alongside him at dinner on Saturday.

That’s left leaders, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Macron, who put forth well-publicized displays of unity this weekend, to urgently warn of backsliding into history’s darkest moments.

Macron offered a clear message about the dangers of nationalism while hosting the ceremony commemorating the armistice Sunday. With Trump – a self-declared “nationalist” – seated stone-faced in front of him, Macron delivered a stinging rebuke of the US President’s “America First” agenda.

“Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism,” Macron said. “Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. By saying ‘our interests first; who cares about the others?’, we erase what a nation holds dearest, what gives it life, what makes it great, and what makes it essential — its moral values.” 

Macron later warned that “the old demons” have resurfaced, declaring that “giving into the fascination for withdrawal, isolationism, violence and domination would be a grave error” for which future generations would hold them accountable.


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