The Syria strikes have given Emmanuel Macron, the French president, a chance to promote France as the leading American ally in Europe days before he becomes the first foreign leader to be hosted by Donald Trump on a state visit.
Mr Macron’s office released a photograph showing the president in the Jupiter command bunker under the Elysée Palace, his brows furrowed in concentration as he oversaw the strikes, flanked by his defence minister, Florence Parly, and military chiefs.
Comparisons were immediately made with a photograph of Barack Obama in the White House Situation Room, as Osama Bin Laden was killed in a US military operation.
Mr Macron, who says he speaks “daily” to Mr Trump, discussed Syria with Vladimir Putin just hours before the strikes.
Less than a year ago, Mr Macron warned the Russian president as he hosted him in the ornate splendour of the palace of Versailles that the use of chemical weapons would be a red line leading to reprisals.
“I believe my red line was crossed,” he told Mr Putin in the call on Friday, according to Mr Macron’s advisers.
The French president was the first international leader to say he had proof that Syria used chemical weapons against civilians in Douma. On Saturday a French intelligence report giving details of the evidence was made public.
Before the strikes, Mr Macron told Mr Trump that France was prepared to act alone if the US and Britain backed down, increasing pressure on him for prompt action.
US, UK and French launch Syria airstrikes, in pictures
Mr Macron’s decisiveness contrasted with the cancellation of planned strikes against Syria’s chemical weapons by his predecessor, François Hollande, in 2013. Mr Hollande chose not to go it alone following President Obama’s U-turn after the British parliament voted against military action.
Mindful that Mr Obama was derided for failing to follow through on his red line, Mr Macron told journalists after his election last year: “When you fix red lines, if you can’t enforce them, you decide to be weak. That’s not my choice.”
As head of state and commander-in-chief, Mr Macron enjoys greater freedom to deploy military forces than Theresa May.
His high international profile and his success in impressing Mr Trump, who decided to invite him to Washington after attending the Bastille Day military parade in Paris last year, have restored French pride, battered by economic and social problems.
A French diplomatic source said: “Macron is positioning France as America’s most effective European ally while Angela Merkel is absorbed by domestic politics and Britain is preoccupied with Brexit. He has turned France back into a global player.”
Before Mr Trump telegraphed his intention to strike Syria in a Twitter post, he phoned Mr Macron twice. Mr Trump’s failure to call Mrs May in the early stages was not lost on the French. After the strikes, they also noted that Mr Trump tweeted: “Thank you to France and to the United Kingdom.”
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Mr Macron’s visit, reportedly organised at the insistence of Melania Trump, who enjoyed visiting Paris with her husband, will include a working meeting at the White House, a joint press conference with Mr Trump and a state dinner.
Mr Trump also plans to invite Mr Macron and his wife Brigitte to a private dinner at Mount Vernon, which was George Washington’s plantation home in Virginia. French media described the invitation as a “rare honour”.
Mr Trump’s palate is famously limited, but he is said to be planning an elaborate dinner to impress Mr Macron, who invited the Trumps to a private dinner at the famous Jules Verne restaurant in the Eiffel Tower.
The Macrons’ state visit is seen as a blow to Mrs May, who was the first world leader to visit Mr Trump in the White House.