From Normandy’s spirit of courage, sacrifice and victory to a Biden-Macron spectacle

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By John J. Metzler, June 12, 2024

The somber but uplifting commemorations of the D-Day landings in Normandy, now eighty years ago, shed light on the historic Allied victory of arms, men and spirit.

For American Presidents, D-Day serves as a talismanic singular moment in WWII which saw the successful Allied landings on the French coast, signaling the beginning of the end of Hitler’s Third Reich which would come less than a year later.

On key anniversaries, American Presidents dutifully and reverently made the pilgrimage to the hallowed stretch of Norman coast, which is forever linked with the date of 6 June 1944, D-Day, the courage and sacrifice of the Allied forces, and the eventual Liberation of France.

Over 156,000 American, British, and Canadian forces would land in France that momentous day. Those landing beaches code named Omaha, Utah, Sword, Gold and Juno became synonymous with past generations for the heroic fighting spirit against tyranny and as significantly ushered in the dawn of Occupied Europe’s freedom.

President Ronald Reagan’s visit during the 1984 40th anniversary commemorations, and his “Boys of Pointe du Hoc” address presented a magisterial masterpiece of uplifting oratory.

Joe Biden’s speech at the 80th anniversary, on these same Cliffs in Normandy offered a pedantic and political vision set for 2024. Joe Biden spoke incessantly about democracy.  Ronald Reagan intoned freedom, liberty and deterrence as the means by which democracy is attained and preserved.

French President Emmanuel Macron and Joe Biden at the 80th anniversary commemoration of the D-Day invasion. / Video Image

The Wall Street Journal wrote, “Against D-Day Backdrop, Biden Puts Democracy at Center of Anti-Trump Pitch.”

A day earlier in Paris, the U.S. president, meeting with Ukraine’s wartime President Vlodomyr Zelensky, brought a feckless political partisanship to the discussions when Biden apologized to his Ukrainian counterpart for the delay in the massive American weapons and support package, passed earlier this year.

The president said, “I apologize for the weeks of not knowing what was going to pass, in terms of funding, because we had trouble getting the bill that we had to pass, that had the money in it.” He lamented to Zelensky: “Some of our very conservative members were holding it up.” Fine, he could have said this privately and without question Zelensky totally understands. But Biden’s public remarks were made overseas and broke the unofficial taboo of mixing American domestic issues into the game of partisanship.

During the Paris meeting, Biden announced new aid of $225 million to Ukraine. The Biden Administration is openly talking about sending Ukraine new weapons which can strike deep into Russian territory. And what can Washington expect as a reaction from Moscow? Already Vladimir Putin is threatening possible use of tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

But politics plays so well in the French capital where President Emmanuel Macron is inching yet closer to active involvement in the Ukraine war against Russia. Macron has openly spoken since February on various occasions about sending French advisors, troops and certainly much more military equipment to assist the beleaguered Ukrainian military.

Macron during a press conference at the Presidential Élysée palace alongside Zelensky, said he wanted to “finalize a coalition” of countries prepared to send military advisers/instructors to Ukraine and confirmed the impending start of training of Ukrainian pilots on French Mirage 2000-5 fighters. Macron also supported initial membership talks for Ukraine to eventually join the European Union.

Macron’s near giddy enthusiasm for arming Ukraine was dealt a triple espresso jolt when the results of the European Union Parliamentary elections not only devastated his own political party through a surge of the right/populist National Rally (RN) connected with Marine LePen. The vote echoed part of the wider conservative victories across the European continent.

A stunned Emmanuel Macron, citing a “feverish tone in political debate in our country,” dissolved the French National Assembly and called for new Legislative elections on June 30.

This poses a risky gamble. These elections, just weeks before the Paris Olympics, will most certainly reshuffle the political deck in the National Assembly but not necessarily in Macron’s favor. Macron’s Ukraine policy is generally opposed by both Right and Left wing parties and thus puts the President on thin political ice both in Paris and Kyiv.

The postwar European political architecture, that of a whole and free continent, forged by the blood and the battles of WWII and the defensive deterrence of the Atlantic Alliance, faces new challenges to the old norms, the status quo, and politics as usual. Frustration abounds on all sides.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]