Without mentioning his buddy Trump by name, France's Macron just tore into the US president's policies

  • French President Emmanuel Macron addressed Congress Wednesday.
  • He warned against embracing isolationism and nationalism.
  • Congress gave Macron a warm welcome.
French President Emmanuel Macron reacts to a standing ovation after addressing a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress April 25, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Getty Images
French President Emmanuel Macron reacts to a standing ovation after addressing a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress April 25, 2018 in Washington, DC.

There's no election for leadership of the "liberal world order" — the U.S.-constructed system of laws and values underpinning American prosperity since World War II.

But French President Emmanuel Macron has seized it with words just the same. He underscored that with his speech to a joint meeting of Congress on Wednesday, which got a warm bipartisan reception even as it challenged the American host he calls "dear Donald" Trump.

"We can choose isolationism, withdrawal and nationalism," Macron said in the well of the House of Representatives. "It can be tempting to us as a temporary remedy to our fears.

"But closing the door to the world will not stop the evolution of the world," he added. "I'm convinced that if we decide to open our eyes wider we will be stronger, we will overcome the dangers, we will not let the rampaging work of extreme nationalism shake a world full of hopes for greater prosperity."

Macron's call to "re-invent" cooperative approaches to international problems offered a point-by-point rebuttal to President Donald Trump's "America First" insularity. Instead of wiping away national identities, Macron argued, "strong multilateralism will allow our cultures and identities to be respected."

The French president warned that trade wars, rather than trade deals, "destroy jobs" and raise prices for the middle class. He appealed to the U.S. to rejoin the Paris climate accord and create a "low-carbon economy" because "there is no Planet B." He said remaining with America's allies in the Iran nuclear deal, at least until some replacement is negotiated, is the best path for fighting terrorism, preserving peace and avoiding nuclear proliferation.

Reaction from lawmakers was far more positive than anyone could have predicted during the Bush-era estrangement of France and the U.S. over the Iraq War. It packed all the more punch following his public displays of warmth and friendship with Trump during the first state visit of the new American presidency.

"A strong speech," said conservative Alabama Rep. Bradley Byrne, although like other Republicans he disagrees with Macron on the climate accord and Iran deal.

In its uplifting tone and invocation of shared values, the speech evoked the 2004 convention address that helped turn then little-known Barack Obama into the leader of the Democratic Party. Macron did not call out Trump by name, just as Obama then did not call out Republican President George W. Bush. Both punctuated their speeches with an "I believe" peroration appealing to hope over fear.

"Against cynicism, trust and good faith," Macron said. He cast "intelligently regulated market economies" as the path for preserving globalization's benefits while reducing the destabilizing inequality it has caused at the same time.

There's reason to doubt that Macron's combination of flattering personal diplomacy and idealistic rhetoric can nudge the Trump administration in his direction. His top near-term goal is persuading the White House not to scuttle the Iran nuclear deal next month. Last year, he failed on a similar mission to convince Trump to remain in the Paris climate deal.

Yet Macron offered momentary comfort to foreign policy veterans of past administrations — the "establishment" Trump has disdained — who fear for the future of institutions such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization.

Richard Haass, a former aide to both presidents Bush who now runs the Council on Foreign Relations, recently wrote an essay declaring "Liberal World Order, R.I.P." due to Trumpism and other threats.

With Britain's Theresa May enmeshed in Brexit and Germany's Angela Merkel hobbled politically, Haass welcomed Macron's spirited defense.

"It was refreshing to hear that from a French leader, and disappointing that we don't hear it from an American leader," he said. "The President of France is the de facto leader of the West."

WATCH: Macron and I get along on many subjects