PARIS – President Donald Trump flew 3,800 miles to the French capital city for ceremonies to honor 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. Trump had been scheduled to lay a wreath.
The cemetery — with 2,288 graves honoring the war dead — 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.
"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, a speechwriter to former President George W. Bush, tweeted. (Trump is actually staying at the U.S. ambassador's residence in Paris.)
Chief of Staff John Kelly and Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, attended the Belleau ceremony in the Trumps' absence.
Ben Rhodes, 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 in case of inclement weather. "There is always a rain option. Always," he wrote in a tweet.
In the evening, Trump tweeted that he had spent the afternoon in meetings and making calls, though he gave no details.
The American president 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 that Trump had envisioned on the streets of Washington on Veterans Day but canceled due to exorbitant costs.
He 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."
Trump's critics, including former national security aides under President Barack Obama, piled on — payback, perhaps, for the times Trump ridiculed Obama by calling him feckless and weak on the world stage.
"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. …," tweeted Kelly Magsamen, who served as a high-ranking Pentagon official on Asia affairs.
The Paris weather forecast calls for more rain on Sunday.