President Donald J. Trump cannot be everywhere at once. This 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 September 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. It descended Monday morning through sapphire skies and 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 French Revolution.
“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 healthcare professionals came out, it was really something to behold.”
Second, refuting critics’ lies that President 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 Emanuel Macron at his Elysée Palace.
“France holds a very special place in the hearts of Americans,” O’Brien said. “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.”
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.
“The Chinese take advantage of the COVID crisis in an effort to replace our way of life,” O’Brien said. He cited “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 Great Britain’s decision to abandon Huawei’s 5G technology, which he believed would have exposed the UK to Beijing’s “dangerous manipulations.”
Fifth, O’Brien practiced public diplomacy with an easygoing roundtable of nine Paris-based journalists. He fielded questions for 45 minutes on a wide array of issues. He displayed deep knowledge on everything from increased defense spending by most NATO allies to mysterious fires in Iran’s nuclear-research facilities and even offered negotiating advice to Libya’s competing factions.
After bidding the press adieu, O’Brien huddled with France’s president and then jetted home Wednesday evening on the modified 757 whose fuselage bears in bold letters the name of the nation that he so adroitly represented for three dizzying days in Paris: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.