Donald Trump Meets the G-7

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump gestures to supporters as he departs a campaign rally in Clive, Iowa, U.S., September 13, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

One can agree or disagree with Trump's worldview, and there are legitimate points to be made on both sides of the ledger. The only mystery is why world leaders are still taken aback.

President Donald Trump landed in Quebec with a confident swagger and determination, confident in his approach on everything from steel and aluminum tariffs to the Iran nuclear agreement and trade. The only problem for Trump was that nobody else in the G-7 group of industrialized nations (with perhaps the new populist coalition government in Italy as the exception) supports Trump's views on these issues.

It’s quite easy to take a glance at the traditional “family photo” of the G-7 leaders and assume that all is cordial in the group. Pictures, however, can be highly deceiving—one doesn’t need to look too far below the surface to recognize the wide disparity of opinion between the American president and every other politician at the meeting. In fact, one doesn’t even have to look under the surface to watch the intense fight unfold over global trade, tariffs, and the rules-based international order. For instance, Trump, French president Emmanuel Macron, and Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau aired their dirty laundry on the Twittersphere even before the G-7 began. Macron, who appeared to have had some success in schmoozing Trump in the past, is now angry at the direction transatlantic relations have taken. “The American President may not mind being isolated,” Macron tweeted, “but neither do we mind signing a 6 country agreement if need be.”

The subtext is as clear as day: “Mr. President, start acting like a friend. We are all on the same team. But you are causing a dramatic fissure in the family by pursuing a trade war that helps no one and hurts everyone. And you’re doing it while taking us for granted.”

As a general rule, the foreign-policy establishment in Washington, DC. sympathizes with this message. The establishment is terrified that Trump is ripping apart the fabric of the very global system that the United States constructed out of the ashes of World War II. To employees of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Brookings Institution, and the New York Times editorial board, Trump's ego, obsession with picking worthless fights, and his desire to win at all costs are just as crippling to the international system's health as actions by revisionist powers. For example, they would see Trump's actions and nature as on par with the global damage caused by Vladimir Putin's murdering of Russian dissidents on British soil or China's moves in the South China Sea. Publications like the Economist, Der Spiegel, and the New Yorker have devoted issue after issue, and cover story after cover story, reminding readers around the world about the virtues of the post–World War II system. They write about free and open trading regimes and the importance of collective security alliances like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. These newspapers also expound upon the indispensability of America’s responsibility to uphold international security, enforcing the rules, and protecting the globe from the latest Putin-orchestrated shenanigans. Finally, there is a genuine worry in the Euro-Atlantic diplomatic and security community that Trump is singlehandedly tearing the transatlantic alliance apart—and even worse, that he is doing it with a smile on his face.

As the Economist put it in their June seventh cover story, “He [Trump] is wrong . . . to think that America loses by taking on the costs of global leadership and submitting itself to rules. On the contrary, rules help deter aggressors, shape countries’ behavior, safeguard American interests and create a mechanism to help solve problems from trade to climate change.” American leadership, in short, is the fuel that keeps the free world running.

Diplomats in Brussels, cabinet officials in London, think tank scholars in Washington, and a clear majority of the G-7 simply don’t understand the rationale behind President Trump’s decisions. It’s inconceivable and nonsensical to many of them how Trump can believe that slapping a 25 percent tariff on steel imports is a good idea for global commerce. They also don’t understand how unilaterally withdrawing the United States from an effective multilateral nuclear agreement that is constraining Iran’s nuclear enrichment capability is a boon to the cause of nonproliferation. Others, like United Kingdom prime minister Theresa May, are puzzled about why Trump would even bring up the idea of re-inducting Russia into the G-7 when, three months prior, two Russians living in Britain were almost poisoned to death presumably on Moscow’s orders. There is just so much about Donald Trump that traditional U.S. allies are unable to comprehend.