-Analysis-

Donald Trump won’t be in Paris on Tuesday. Following his decision to unilaterally withdraw the U.S. from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, French President Emmanuel Macron didn’t invite him to the two-day One Planet Summit opening in the French capital. Gathering 50 world leaders and dozens of international business leaders, the conference coincides with the two-year anniversary of the landmark Paris climate accord, with a specific focus on how to finance the fight against global warming. Though some U.S. organizations (states, cities, NGOs and businesses) are attending the event, the utter absence of any representative of the federal government is yet another sign that, under Trump, the age of outright American leadership is over.

Trump’s absence — both literally and figuratively — regarding the crucial issue of climate change, has left Macron with plenty of room to fill that leadership vacuum and push ahead with his “Make Our Planet Great Again” agenda. The clear jibe in the name already says it all. And as Le Figaro writes, the ambitious 39-year-old French president now has free rein to “put on his savior-of-the-planet costume.”

It’s a strange reversal of fate.

Trump was also notably absent from Syria yesterday, where it was Russia’s Vladimir Putin proclaiming victory over “the most battle-hardened group of international terrorists.” This triumphant scene couldn’t be more timely for the Russian president, who can bring back home a “significant part” of Russian troops — a move that will go down well with voters ahead of this spring’s presidential election, where Putin is aiming for a fourth term and an even bigger place in Russian history. His appearance yesterday alongside Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and later in Egypt and Turkey, amounts to a “promotional tour” intended to show Putin “parading himself as a global leader,” Swiss daily Le Temps writes today.

It’s a strange reversal of fate, 30 years after the U.S.’ final triumph over the Soviet Union was hastened by Moscow’s quagmire in Afghanistan and Washington’s victory in the first Gulf War in Iraq and Kuwait. Today, the man in the Kremlin, fortified by his victory in Syria, has supplanted the man in the White House as the leading actor in the region. Compared to Trump’s latest provocation of recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the contrast between Moscow’s current influence in the Middle East and Washington’s has seldom been starker.

Seen from that angle, Trump’s big announcement yesterday of new manned missions to the Moon, and eventually to Mars could be read as another sign of American leadership on the wane. With terrorism and climate change burning down here on Earth, this can sound less like the challenge of a new space race, and more like a nation making the ultimate retreat.


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