An American in Paris: NSC Chief O’Brien presses U.S. interests in French capitalAmbassador Robert C. O'Brien
PARIS — President Donald J. Trump cannot be everywhere at once. Last week, the president was represented in the French capital by the man they call APNSA: Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Robert C. O’Brien.
Trump and the American people should be proud: The NSC chief, on the job since Sept. 18, rekindled old friendships, asserted American interests, and made life increasingly miserable for an emerging adversary. He did so with an intriguing combination of rhetorical intensity and an almost infectious sense of personal calm.
Accompanied by stoic Secret Service agents and a surprisingly youthful support staff, O’Brien flew Sunday night in a C-32 that often serves as Air Force Two. Along for the ride as the NSC’s traveling press corps: Townhall’s Guy Benson, host of Fox’s “The Guy Benson Show,” The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway, a Fox News contributor, and yours truly. For my part, I have known O’Brien since we both won college scholarships from the Washington Crossing Foundation in the early 1980s.
The C-32 descended Monday morning through sapphire skies, over the Channel Islands’ alluring coves, and then across a jigsaw puzzle of small farms along the Normandy coast. Their haphazard property lines likely were scribbled a thousand years ago. Upon landing at Le Bourget Airport — where Charles Lindbergh, aka “Lucky Lindy,” touched down after his historic trans-Atlantic solo flight in 1927 — O’Brien’s party headed into town via motorcade for three action-packed days of diplomacy.
O’Brien accomplished his five chief objectives:
First, he stood in for President Trump at the July 14 festivities, marking the 231st anniversary of the storming of the Bastille and the start of the French Revolution. Due to COVID-19, this year’s commemoration was much smaller than usual, although the customary dramatic flyovers of military aircraft filled the skies, as the roars of jet engines echoed among the rues below.
“It was an honor to attend the Bastille Day Celebration,” O’Brien said. “When the anthem was played and sung by the choir at the end of the ceremony, and the health care professionals came out, it was really something to behold.”
Second, refuting critics’ lies that Trump gleefully disses U.S. allies, O’Brien reinvigorated America’s relationship with France. He met with numerous French officials throughout his visit, culminating with a Wednesday evening tete-a-tete with President Emmanuel Macron at his Elysée Palace.
“France holds a very special place in the hearts of Americans,” O’Brien said. “A lot of folks like to come and talk about Normandy and talk about America coming to France’s aide in World War II, which we did, and it’s something that’s a great source of pride to the American people. But there wouldn’t have been a Normandy had it not been for French assistance to us at the outset of our government. If it hadn’t been for the French fleet at Chesapeake Bay in Yorktown, we may not have been a country. So, France is our oldest ally. It’s a very special ally, and we want to stand by France whenever we can.”
Third, O’Brien conferred with his counterparts from France, Germany, Holland, Italy and the United Kingdom. “Overall, the meetings have been extraordinarily constructive, and my belief is that the Atlantic alliance and the relationship between North America and specifically the United States and our partners in Western Europe are strong,” O’Brien observed. “It remains strong, even if there are family squabbles over trade or economic issues. Because what underlies the relationship are our values: Our belief in the world order, our belief in democracy, our belief in human rights. And that’s what’s always going to pull us together, notwithstanding some of the squabbles that we have.”
Fourth, O’Brien repeatedly sledgehammered red-hot wedges between America’s European friends and the increasingly menacing People’s Republic of China. With an almost Buddhist serenity, the Mormon O’Brien listed multifarious outrages that have earned Beijing the West’s collective cold shoulder.
“China’s been involved in massive economic theft from the United States,” O’Brien said. “The Chinese take advantage of the COVID crisis in an effort to replace our way of life … the effective annexation of Hong Kong … The fact that the Chinese ambushed the Indians and clubbed over 20 Indian soldiers to death in a really horrific fashion … the debt traps that they’ve created in many Third World countries … forced sterilizations, forced birth control, children being put into state-run orphanages, the continued use of reeducation camps, the mass surveillance of mosques,” all of which terrorize China’s Muslim Uighur population.
O’Brien also applauded the U.K.’s decision Tuesday to abandon Huawei’s 5G technology which he believed would have exposed America’s closest NATO ally to Beijing’s “dangerous manipulations.”
Fifth, O’Brien practiced public diplomacy at an easygoing roundtable with nine Paris-based journalists. Speaking at the sumptuous American ambassador’s residence, completed in 1842, O’Brien fielded questions for 45 minutes on a wide array of issues. He displayed deep knowledge on everything from, so far, $120 billion in increased defense spending by most NATO allies (thanks to President Trump’s prodding) to mysterious fires in Iran’s nuclear-research facilities and even offered negotiating advice to Libya’s competing military factions.
After bidding the press adieu, O’Brien huddled with France’s president and then jetted home Wednesday evening on the modified Boeing 757 whose fuselage boldly identifies the nation he so adroitly represented for three dizzying days in Paris: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.