Ahead of the G-7 gathering in Quebec, Canada, Donald Trump was an unusually isolated American leader, having earned the scorn of our neighbors and allies on issues ranging from trade to national policy to climate. The Republican made matters worse before leaving the White House on Friday, inexplicably calling for Vladimir Putin's Russian government to be re-admitted into the elite international group.
But it would have been a mistake to think Trump had nowhere to go but up. At the gathering, the America president managed to make a bad situation vastly worse.
For example, much of the summit involved negotiations between the delegations on a joint communique reflecting the G-7 members' shared values. An agreement was reached -- right up until Trump intervened.
President Donald Trump said Saturday that he was pulling the U.S. out of the Group of Seven's official statement of common values and accused Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the host of the G-7 conference, of "false statements."An administration official earlier had said that Trump would join the summit communique.
The American president rejected the communique by way of an angry tweet, published while en route to the summit in Singapore with North Korea's Kim Jong-un.
White House officials then spent yesterday blaming Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for apparently hurting Trump's feelings.
Among the most striking aspects of this is how easy it would have been for this president to avoid another diplomatic fiasco. Trump could've made an appearance, shaken a few hands, offered vague assurances, embraced an ambiguous and non-binding communique, and turned his attention to his meeting with Kim Jong-un.
Instead, the Republican went to Canada and, over the course of just two days, managed to:
* arrive unfashionably late for a key discussion at the summit, in what was perceived as a calculated snub of his hosts;
* leave early, declaring the summit over before its completion;
* host a caustic press conference, at which he lashed out at our trading partners, American journalists, and Barack Obama, among others;
* further isolate the United States from our closest allies;
* further enrage our allies, who are struggling to contain their contempt for Trump's irresponsible antics.
"We spent two days to obtain a text and commitments. We will stand by them and anyone who would depart from them, once their back was turned, shows their incoherence and inconsistency," French President Emmanuel Macron's office said in a written statement, obviously referring to Trump and his team. The statement went on to say, "International cooperation cannot be dictated by fits of anger and throwaway remarks.... Let's be serious and worthy of our people. We make commitments and keep them."
Much of Trump's position is rooted in his steadfast belief that G-7 nations are taking advantage of bad trade deals that hurt the United States, forcing him to impose tariffs just to keep up. The trouble, as is too often the case, is that the president does not appear to have any idea what he's saying. As the New York Times' Paul Krugman explained, the American president "didn't demand drastic policy changes from our allies; he demanded that they stop doing bad things they aren't doing. This wasn't a tough stance on behalf of American interests, it was a declaration of ignorance and policy insanity."
...Trump demanded that the other G7 members remove their "ridiculous and unacceptable" tariffs on U.S. goods -- which would be hard for them to do, because their actual tariff rates are very low. The European Union, for example, levies an average tariff of only three percent on US goods. Who says so? The U.S. government's own guide to exporters.True, there are some particular sectors where each country imposes special barriers to trade. Yes, Canada imposes high tariffs on certain dairy products. But it's hard to make the case that these special cases are any worse than, say, the 25 percent tariff the U.S. still imposes on light trucks. The overall picture is that all of the G7 members have very open markets.
The result was a fiasco for the United States on a scale unseen in any previous G-7 gathering. If Trump were deliberately trying to weaken American alliances with our closest international partners, it wouldn't have looked much different.
Trump has demonstrated that he knows how to insult our allies, uproot the Western alliance, and pontificate on issues he only pretends to understand. What he seems incapable of demonstrating is a capacity for leadership.