He’s been known as the “French Obama” to some, and the Roman god “Jupiter” to others. But this week, French President Emmanuel Macron has earned himself a new nickname: “Trump Whisperer.”
The French president was anointed with the new moniker on the eve of his visit to Washington, where this week he becomes the first foreign leader to be hosted by President Donald Trump for a formal state visit. Considered the highest expression of friendship between the United States and a foreign state, the three-day visit includes all the trappings of a national event. In Macron’s case, this means a red-carpet welcome with a 21-gun salute, a state dinner at the White House (preceded by a rare private dinner with the president and the first lady at George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate), and the opportunity to address both houses of Congress.
That Macron was chosen for this honor comes as no surprise to those who have observed his close, albeit unusual, bond with Trump. Despite their political differences over the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal, the two seem to share a mutual respect, perhaps best demonstrated by Trump’s reluctance to criticize Macron publicly. “No I like him, he’s a friend of mine,” Trump told British TV presenter Piers Morgan during an interview in January, in which Morgan asked Trump whether Macron (“who’s been all over you, trying to be your new best friend”) should be perceived as a threat to Britain’s ambitions for a U.K.-U.S. trade deal. “Emmanuel,” Trump repeated, emphasizing each syllable with a smile. “He’s a great guy.”
While Trump has had volatile relationships with many world leaders —including Russian President Vladimir Putin, who he originally expressed a willingness to work with, but has recently backed away from—he has developed solid working relationships, too. This week’s state visit will almost certainly cement Macron’s reputation as being among the president’s closest friends, but he certainly isn’t the only one. Here are some possible contenders for the next state visit:
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The Japanese leader spent part of last week discussing North Korea, defense, and trade with Trump over a round of golf in what was their second meeting at Mar-a-Lago, but their ties go back much further. Abe was the first foreign leader to meet with Trump after the U.S. presidential election, and quickly went on to position himself as a strong ally of the president—even if his American counterpart hasn’t always reciprocated. Despite their apparent friendship, marked by matching hats, it hasn’t been enough to exempt Japan from Trump’s aluminum and steel tariffs (other U.S. allies have been excluded). Nor has it earned Abe a seat at the table for Washington’s upcoming talks with North Korea over its nuclear weapons and missile program—a matter of understandable concern for Japan, given its close proximity to Pyongyang.
If there was ever a time for the two leaders’ bond to be reinforced, it could be now: Abe is facing calls to resign in the face of an on-going cronyism scandal. As a leader facing his own share of domestic scandal, Trump may be the perfect friend to guide him.
Crown Prince Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS). The U.S.-Saudi alliance “is probably as good as it’s really ever been,” Trump boasted during the Saudi leader’s visit to Washington last month. The relationship certainly got off to a good start. Unlike most modern U.S. presidents, who have traditionally chosen Mexico or Canada for their first foreign trip, Trump set his sights on Saudi Arabia, where he was treated to a a ceremonial sword dance, the opportunity to address the leaders of nearly 50 Muslim-majority countries, and a glowing orb. Though the two countries have long shared interests (such as oil and security), in this president, the Saudis appear to have found an even closer ally—one who, unlike his predecessor, appears more willing to take a hardline stance against their regional adversary, Iran.
While there remain some areas of divergence (U.S. lawmakers from both parties condemned Riyadh’s role in the humanitarian crisis in Yemen), MbS’s domestic-reform efforts and plans for U.S. investment seem to have endeared him to the president. “Three billion dollars, 533 million dollars, 525 million dollars—that’s peanuts for you,” Trump joked to an embarrassed MbS in the Oval Office. “You should have increased it.”
President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Saudi Arabia is far from Trump’s only ally in the Middle East. Egypt’s President Sisi, who last month secured his second term in the country’s undemocratic election, enjoys strong ties with his American counterpart. Trump has repeatedly touted the two leaders’ shared interests (“We agree on so many things,” he said during Sisi’s visit to Washington last year), as well as his fashion sense. And while Sisi has faced increased scrutiny for human-rights violations in Egypt, it seems unlikely to affect his relationship with Trump, who hasn’t shied away from praising the world’s strongmen. As H.A. Hellyer noted in The Atlantic this month, “In Washington, Egypt is largely perceived as a linchpin of stability in a rather unstable region, a country that remains committed to the peace deal with Israel—an animating feature of U.S. support for Cairo for decades.”
Prime Minister Theresa May. Under Trump, the U.S. relationship with the U.K. has been more strained than “special.” The president has made a habit of sparring with British leaders (including the British prime minister herself) on Twitter, critiquing everything from how the country addresses terrorist attacks on its own soil to the effectiveness of its healthcare service. Still, Trump contends that things between him and May remain on the up and up. (“We actually have a very good relationship, although a lot of people think we don’t,” he said of May in January), and is expected to make his long-anticipated visit to the U.K. this summer, though an exact date has yet to be confirmed.
May has her own reasons to keep the “Special Relationship” intact. With Brexit approaching, the U.K. is counting on a free-trade deal with the United States once it leaves the European Union—and it wants to make sure it is at the front of the queue when it does.