President of France Emmanuel Macron addresses the United Nations General Assembly on September 25, 2018 in New York City.
Macron fires back at Trump in UNGA speech
00:43 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Sam Kiley is a senior CNN international correspondent. The opinions in this article belong to the author.

CNN  — 

It must have been toe-curling. The leader of the nation that painted much of the globe an imperial red promising tax breaks for big business to compensate for leaving the world’s largest trading bloc.

American businessmen listening to British Prime Minister Theresa May might have been forgiven for embarrassed coughs while she made undeliverable promises like a second-hand car salesman on the fringes of the United Nations General Assembly in New York this week.

Donald Trump, the President of the United States of America, showed no such restraint. When he claimed that his administration’s achievements were perhaps the greatest in US history, the world’s leaders laughed out loud.

Both spectacles reveal a continuing Anglo-Saxon retreat from international affairs.

Driven by the populist British vote to leave the European Union and by Trump’s equally populist rejection of “globalism,” the UK and US seem driven to embarrassing self-harm.

Step forward Emmanuel Macron.

The fresh-faced exemplar for a Third Way pitched loud and clear for the vacant role of global Head Prefect.

Pulling on a sensible rhetorical jersey, Macron was on a mission to put himself – and France – at the center of things, loudly denouncing the isolationism of Britain and the US.

“Only collective action allows for the upholding of the sovereignty and equality of the people in whose name we take action,” Macron said. “This is the reason we must take action against climate, demographic and digital challenges. No one alone can tackle these.”

Kate Bolduan
Bolduan: World laughed at Trump ... literally
01:52 - Source: CNN

Trump’s administration is allergic to – and has threatened to break – the International Criminal Court, which prosecutes war crimes.

Theresa May, as Britain’s Home Secretary, was frequently frustrated by the European Court of Human Rights (a largely post-Second World War British creation) when it came to the court’s enforcement of the rights of prisoners and terrorists.

The UK is pulling out of the EU, the richest trade bloc on the planet. The US is locked in a trade war with China, pulled out of the Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade bloc of 12 economic powerhouses, and wants to renegotiate the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The US has also pulled out of the Paris agreement on combating climate change.

Macron clearly believed he spoke for many at the UN when he said: “If courage is lacking in the defense of fundamental principles, international order becomes fragile and this can lead as we have already seen twice, to global war. We saw that with our very own eyes.”

Of course for a French president with approval ratings at 28%, according to a poll this month conducted by OpinionWay, taking a swipe at Les Anglo-Saxons is rarely unpopular.

But no matter how much Les Rosbifs and Les Yanquees are any French politician’s whipping boys, his appeal to internationalism, his passion but style at the podium and a general appeal to good sense will have resonated beyond the assembly’s chambers.

Here, after all, is the leader of the only democracy left among the permanent five members of the Security Council that still seems to believe that a world organized under the imperfect structures of multilateral diplomacy and its rules is one worth preserving.

Binding Europe economically within the EU and much of the rest of the world to international conventions has not meant that “globalism” has prevented all conflicts. But it could have been much worse.