June 16, 2024

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Biden is in France on the occasion of Victory Day to emphasize the contrast with Trump

PARIS — President Biden arrives in France on Wednesday to join world leaders in commemoration of the 80th anniversary of D-Day, an election-year visit in which he plans to tap into the memory of allies united against tyranny to highlight the stakes of his campaign and attract attention. A clear comparison with Donald Trump.

Biden will join more than two dozen heads of state descending on Normandy along with dozens of World War II veterans, some more than a century old. They will honor troops from the United States, Canada and Britain who landed in France on June 6, 1944, in an attack that laid the foundation for the defeat of the Nazis.

Biden is also scheduled to deliver a speech on democracy and freedom on Friday, according to the White House, giving him a chance to put the struggle against tyranny in a global framework. A day later, he will meet President Emmanuel Macron on his first state visit to France as president.

The theme of this week’s celebrations – UN brotherhood in sacrifice to overcome tyranny – is one that weighs heavily in Biden’s message in his campaign against Trump. The Biden campaign says the former president, who baselessly denies his loss in the 2020 election, is a potential authoritarian who would end American democracy if he wins.

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The contrast with Trump will likely remain largely unspoken, but it will be hard to miss. Biden has turned the controversy stemming from Trump’s visit to France half a decade ago, also to mark D-Day, into a regular line of attack, citing reports that the former president was reluctant to honor American soldiers buried in a French cemetery and reportedly described fallen soldiers as… “Suckers” and “losers.”

Trump has strongly denied making these statements. But Biden again addressed the reports during a fundraiser in Connecticut on Monday.

“Losers and suckers!” Who the hell does he think he is? “This man doesn’t deserve to be president, whether I run or not,” he said, his voice rising.

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During his presidency, Biden has highlighted the mission of rebuilding the alliances destroyed by Trump and working to restore America’s role as a global leader, rejecting Trump’s “America First” agenda and denouncing him as a figure ridiculed by his peers.

Biden also criticized Trump for saying he would encourage Russia to do “whatever the hell it wants” with NATO members if those countries don’t spend their share on defense. He warned that Trump would give more freedom to authoritarian leaders including Russian President Vladimir Putin, who invaded Ukraine more than two years ago.

But as Biden arrives in France, he is at odds with other Western leaders over some of his foreign policy positions, especially the US role in the fires in Ukraine and Gaza.

Biden and Macron will discuss “the need for consistent and long-term support for Ukraine,” according to the French government, but that comes as global support for the war is waning as it approaches the three-year mark, including in the United States.

Biden has also taken political blows at home and abroad over his strong support for the Israeli invasion of Gaza, as the death toll there has risen to more than 36,000, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health. Israel launched its military campaign in the Palestinian enclave after Hamas fighters infiltrated Israel on October 7, killing about 1,200 people and taking more than 250 hostage, according to Israeli officials.

Through it all, Biden’s trip will likely draw comparisons to Trump’s trips to France during his presidential term.

Five years ago, Trump visited Normandy to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings, and gave a speech honoring the soldiers who gave their lives at the historic site. Macron and other leaders used their remarks to praise international institutions such as NATO and the European Union, but Trump spent little time praising the alliances that emerged from World War II, sticking instead to “America first” themes.

Trump also drew criticism for using a Fox News interview, recorded while at the American cemetery in Normandy, to denounce his political enemies despite the solemn atmosphere. With the crisscrossing white headstones of fallen service members in the background, Trump described former Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III called him an “idiot” and attacked then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as a “disaster.”

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Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian, said Biden did not need to mention Trump by name to provide a clear contrast to his predecessor’s “disastrous” emergence on the world stage.

“By simply talking about how these men died trying to destroy tyranny, it will be concluded that Trump made a mistake in his visit,” Brinkley said. “but [Biden] He must stay out of political conflict. It would be completely inappropriate to directly criticize Trump while in the hallowed grounds of the cemetery.

Trump also visited Paris in 2018, a trip that became controversial after he chose not to make a planned stop at a cemetery where American service members are buried. A report in The Atlantic said Trump particularly disparaged service members buried there, an account later confirmed by his then chief of staff, although Others on the trip said bad weather was responsible for Trump’s decision.

Regardless, one of Biden’s final stops in France will be to lay a wreath at the World War I-era Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, a site that Trump bypassed.

Biden is likely to receive a warmer welcome in France than Trump did. The former president was not popular with the French, while Biden, who invited Macron to Washington in 2022 for the first state visit of his administration, is very popular here. Most visiting American presidents are greeted enthusiastically at war anniversaries in France, a country where memory of the role the United States played in helping to end World War II remains very much alive.

Biden’s strong support for Ukraine has also won him support in France, said Renaud Girard, international columnist for French newspaper Le Figaro. “Biden will be well received because the majority of French people, without being anti-Russian, found Russian aggression in 2022 unacceptable,” he said.

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However, Biden may face a more contentious issue: the war in Gaza. Girard said that Biden’s strong support for Israel conflicts with the views of a section of French society, which believes that Israel “went too far in its retaliatory actions after October 7.”

Anti-war protests occur regularly across France. The last one, in Paris on Saturday, attracted 22,000 people, according to police. Some activist groups have planned protests this week, although they are not explicitly linked to Biden’s visit.

However, Girard said, “The French public understood that Biden had done everything in his power to reach a ceasefire,” including his recent announcement of a plan for a “permanent end to the war.” Girard said: In France, “Biden cannot be equated with Netanyahu.”

Giving a moving speech on the beach in Normandy has become a tradition for US presidents, who have used the place to pay tribute to US military service members and the world order they helped create. The Normandy landings were the largest combined sea, air, and land assault ever undertaken, and despite heavy casualties, the successful operation helped make the U.S. Army the world’s premier fighting force.

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan gave a high-profile speech at Pointe du Hoc that was considered one of his most memorable.

“These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc,” Reagan said. “These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the heroes who helped liberate the continent. These are the heroes who helped end the war.”

Biden, who like Reagan at the time suffered from low foreign policy approval ratings and is seeking re-election, plans to deliver remarks in Pointe du Hoc as well. Reagan won re-election in a landslide, something Biden no doubt hopes to repeat, said Brinkley, whose book The Boys of Pointe du Hoc addresses Reagan’s speech and the American troops who fought there.

He said: “This is Biden’s opportunity to show his deep understanding of the cost of war.”

Olorunniba reported from Washington.