USA: Trump cancels visit to U.S. military cemetery outside Paris, citing weather

The US flag flutters at half mast prior to a ceremony at the Aisne-Marne American cemetery and memorial in Belleau, eastern France, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. President Donald Trump cancelled his visit due to bad weather. More than 60 heads of state and government are converging on France for the commemorations that will crescendo Sunday with ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Paris on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, exactly a century after the armistice. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

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PARIS — President Trump flew 3,800 miles to this French capital city for ceremonies to honor the military sacrifice in World War I, hoping to take part in the kind of powerful ode to the bravery of the armed forces that he was unable to hold in Washington.

But on his first full day here, it rained on his substitute parade weekend.

Early Saturday, the White House announced Trump and the first lady had scuttled plans, due to bad weather, for their first stop in the weekend’s remembrance activities — a visit to the solemn Aisne Marne American Cemetery, marking the ferocious Battle of Belleau Wood.

It was not completely clear why the Trumps were unable to attend. The cemetery is 50 miles from Paris. Perhaps the president was planning to travel on Marine One, which is occasionally grounded by the Secret Service.

But the sight of dignitaries arriving at other sites outside Paris, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Emmanuel Macron, led some foreign policy analysts to speculate the U.S. commander in chief just wasn’t up for it.

French President Emmanuel Macron, second right, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel lay a wreath of flowers during a ceremony in Compiegne, north of Paris, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. The leaders of France and Germany have held an intimate commemoration at the site north of Paris where the vanquished Germans and victorious but exhausted Allies put an end to World War 1.(AP Photo/Michel Euler)

“It’s incredible that a president would travel to France for this significant anniversary — and then remain in his hotel room watching TV rather than pay in person his respects to the Americans who gave their lives in France for the victory gained 100 years ago tomorrow,” David Frum, who served as a speechwriter to President George W. Bush, wrote in tweets. Trump is actually staying at the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Paris.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau placed a flower at a gravestone at the Canadian Ceremony No. 2 near Vimy Ridge, France.

So began a weekend in which Trump — battling on a number of political fronts in Washington — seemed distracted and disengaged. Trump left Washington as the list of White House worries piled up: newly empowered Democrats, criticism of his pick for acting attorney general and backlash over his personal attacks against journalists.

© Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/AFP/Getty Images Retired Marine Corps general and White House Chief of Staff John F Kelly visits the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial in Belleau, France.


Trump was in France in body but appeared unenthusiastic in spirit.

The White House said Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, would attend the Belleau ceremony in the Trumps’ absence, but Frum suggested Trump could have tried to scramble a motorcade to keep his schedule.

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, left, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford bow during for a ceremony at 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, Iis the place where U.S. troops had their breakthrough battle by stopping a German push for Paris shortly after entering the war in 1917. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser under President Barack Obama, noted he helped plan Obama’s foreign travel throughout his two terms and said it was common to have a backup plan to deal with inclement weather.

“There is always a rain option. Always,” he wrote in a tweet. “Trump will use the U.S. military for a pre-election political stunt but sits in his hotel instead of honoring those who fought and died for America.”

The cemetery has 2,288 grave­sites honoring those who died, including many Americans. The names of 1,060 more Americans who went missing and whose bodies were not recovered are engraved on the walls of the site.

A Canadian soldier visiting the grave in Belgium of George Lawrence Price, the last Commonwealth casualty of World War I. A German sniper slayed the 25-year-old Price two minutes before the ceasefire. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert).

Trump held a bilateral meeting with Macron, but the U.S. president appeared subdued, almost sullen, as Macron tried to mask growing tensions between them.

Trump and Macron at the Elysee Palace. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

When Macron tried to pat Trump’s thigh, the president ignored him and didn’t acknowledge the touch or reciprocate it — a marked difference from their demonstrative power-grip handshakes and back slaps during previous meetings.

Trump is still planning to attend the featured ceremony under the Arc de Triomphe on Sunday, where more than 100 world leaders will pay homage to the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended the Great War.

But he won’t really get a parade. The event will not feature tanks or missiles like the parade Trump had envisioned on the streets of Washington on Veterans Day but canceled due to exorbitant costs.

After another scheduled visit to a ceremony on Sunday, the president plans to fly home just as Macron’s Paris Peace Forum kicks off for three days of meetings aimed at galvanizing global action on shared challenges, such as climate change.

Thomas Wright, a Europe expert at the Brookings Institution, noted Trump announced he was going to France on a whim in August after abruptly canceling his order for the Pentagon to stage a parade.

The Peace Forum was intended “a bit as a counterpoint to ‘America First,’ ” Wright said, referring to Trump’s nationalist foreign policy in which he has unsettled allies on trade and defense. “Now they have this weird situation of Trump being there [in Paris] but the forum going against everything he and [National Security Adviser John] Bolton stand for. . . . My impression is that he’s going to pretend like it’s not happening.”

In the evening, Trump tweeted that he had spent the afternoon in meetings and making calls, though he gave no details. He followed up with a tweet warning he is closely watching the election recount in the gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races in Florida. “Trying to STEAL two big elections in Florida!” he wrote, apparently referring to Democrats.

Trump’s critics, including former national security aides under Obama, piled on — payback, perhaps, for the times Trump ridiculed Obama by calling him feckless and weak on the world stage.

In the two years since his election, Trump has not visited troops in an active war zone — an attempt to make a surprise visit to the Korean demilitarized zone in November 2017 was aborted when Marine One was forced to turn around due to bad weather.

“Real low energy, @realDonaldTrump to not bother to honor the sacrifice of American soldiers in WWI due to some rain. Somehow everyone else was able to do so today. Obama never had this problem. He also visited our troops in war zones,” Kelly Magsamen, who served as a high-ranking Pentagon official on Asia affairs, wrote on Twitter.

On Instagram, Trump did make a statement to U.S. troops, posting a photo of himself speaking to service members at Air Station Miramar in San Diego.
– JILL COLVIN I Associated Press