Trump, who was in Paris to commemorate 100 years since the end of World War I with other world leaders, decided not to attend the trip to the cemetery on Saturday November 11.
Officially, the reason for not attending the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial came down to safety: the President’s Marine One helicopter cannot fly in low cloud cover, a decision that is made by military and security officials and not the President.
There did not appear to be a backup plan if Marine One couldn’t travel and Trump did not make any statements of regret at not being able to visit the cemetery. The White House defended Trump’s decision not to travel by car, saying such a trip would have required closures to Parisian roadways on short notice.
The US president’s decision sparked condemnation in both Europe and the US.
Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Trump’s decision to not attend a ceremony at an American burial ground in France:
“Let down our country.”
“He should’ve gone through it to go. It was not that big a challenge or problem. It was an embarrassment.”
“And he let down, I think, our veterans, he let down our country. And I think he sent a very wrong message to the world.”
“World War I was a horrific, terrible war that affected really everybody – certainly affected us, and not to make a little bit of an effort to get to a very important ceremony was wrong. And I’m disappointed and I’m sorry that he didn’t do it.”
The French army also criticized Trump’s decision to cancel a visit to a First World War cemetery because of “poor weather”, after posting a tweet mocking the president.
— Armée de Terre (@armeedeterre) November 12, 2018
The tweet translates as
“#MondayMotivation. There’s rain but it’s not serious. We’re staying motivated.”
David Frum, a former speech writer for President George W Bush, tweeted that Trump had:
“Shirked on grounds of weather the job of honouring those who fought and died in rain and mud”.
Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser under Obama said the White House’s explanation made little sense.
“I helped plan all of President Obama’s trips for 8 years. “There is always a rain option. Always.”