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The G-7 Debacle and the Summit in Singapore

The G-7 summit in Quebec went very poorly, and it concluded with Trump lashing out at the host, Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau, in response to Trudeau’s restatement of his objections to the steel and aluminum tariff increases imposed earlier this month. Trump’s top economic adviser attempted [1] to justify the president’s actions as a way of sending a message to North Korea ahead of Tuesday’s summit in Singapore:

“POTUS is not gonna let a Canadian prime minister push him around,” Trump’s chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “He is not going to permit any show of weakness on the trip to negotiate with North Korea.”

“So this was about North Korea?” CNN host Jake Tapper asked.

“Of course it was, in large part,” Kudlow said. “Kim must not see American weakness.”

If the president feels the need to lash out publicly at a close ally over perceived slights, that doesn’t convey strength or confidence or whatever it is Kudlow thinks Trump showed. It cannot possibly benefit the U.S. in negotiations with North Korea if the president is and is seen to be as unreliable and prone to picking fights with close allies for no good reason. It does not reassure our East Asian allies that Trump has gone out of his way to strain relationships with other close allies, and it can only encourage the North Korean delegation to see how easily Trump flies off the handle and how ineffective he is at negotiating on behalf of the U.S. Insofar as the G-7 debacle weakened U.S. relations with its allies, it distracts attention from and relieves pressure on North Korea. It also reconfirms what we have known all along: Trump has neither the temperament nor the understanding to bridge the huge gap between the U.S. and North Korea when he cannot even manage relatively minor disagreements with our closest allies.

The president’s fixation on not appearing “weak” is what led to the embarrassment in Canada, and it is likely to derail talks in Singapore. Instead of using the G-7 summit as an opportunity to smooth over disagreements with the other members following his gratuitous and unnecessary tariff hikes, Trump seized on it to issue more threats and demands. Trump insists on seeing every international relationship as a zero-sum contest defined primarily in terms of dominance, and so he cannot imagine a productive negotiation that does not result in someone’s humiliation. Unfortunately for him, this clueless approach to diplomacy usually means that he and the U.S. are publicly humiliated again and again.

Trump’s decision to increase steel and aluminum tariffs on many of our allies and major trading partners has done a remarkable amount of damage to U.S. relations with these countries in just the last ten days. The effects of that decision aren’t going to be limited to higher prices on various goods, but will extend to strained and increasingly frayed relations with our neighbors and allies. That will have consequences for U.S. diplomacy and U.S. interests in the months and years to come that we can’t fully anticipate right now. The first of these will be the damage that has already been done to the U.S. position going into talks with North Korea.

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5 Comments To "The G-7 Debacle and the Summit in Singapore"

#1 Comment By FL Transplant On June 11, 2018 @ 12:10 am

When I first showed up in the Pentagon one of my officemates took me on a walk through the building to show me where things were (it’s a very big building, after all)-the various cafeterias, the Concourse (a small shopping area with a drugstore, shoe repair, dry cleaners, etc–the kinds of things people might need for errands on their lunch hour), the medical clinic, etc. While we talked he told me he was at the end of his second tour in the building, and he had only one piece of advice–don’t take it personal, and don’t make it personal.

He explained that I would be dealing with numerous issues, and quite often there would be others disagreeing with me on my organization’s position on any given issue. But at the same time, there would be other issues I would need that person/organization’s support on–the person I was disagreeing with today would be someone I’d need to line up with me next week on something completely different. If I made the disagreement on any issue personal I would poison any working relationship and make it impossible to gain support on anything else and would rapidly find myself completely ineffective. The best advice I could have been given, and completely true.

Evidently Trump was never given that talk, and never found himself in a position where he disagreed with someone this week but needed their help next week–it was always a winner/loser negotiation in his world, something that turned into a personal and not professional matter, where there were always others he could deal with instead. That’s not the world he’s in now, and it shows.

Someone needs to give him the phrase from the movie “The Godfather”–it’s not personal, it’s just business.

#2 Comment By SF Bay On June 11, 2018 @ 1:23 am

There is virtually no chance that our 71 year old man-child President will chance. It’s not in him. From all appearances he stopped growing emotionally in Kindergarten. This being said, he will continue to spit and sputter about, destroying decades old alliances and likely send us into a recession.

My only hope is that it gets so bad that when the Mueller report comes out and shows that Trump obstructed justice at the very least, Republicans will jump at the chance to get rid of him. They are an ally in Pence, so it will be a win win for them. It will be good for the country too.

#3 Comment By Blanche Davidian On June 11, 2018 @ 2:18 am

The “Crazy Nixon” ploy was dangerous enough in its day. The “Stupid Trump” ploy has proven itself to be utterly useless.

#4 Comment By Taras 77 On June 11, 2018 @ 12:25 pm

Pence is a very depressing prospect for change. He is more strongly aligned with Israel and the neo cons than trump (if that is possible).

#5 Comment By Traveler On June 11, 2018 @ 5:34 pm

“Trump insists on seeing every international relationship as a zero-sum contest defined primarily in terms of dominance, and so he cannot imagine a productive negotiation that does not result in someone’s humiliation.”

It’ll be interesting to see who leaves humiliated after this meeting of the Great Minds, you know, Trump, Rodman and Jong-un. If Jong-un finally does agree to complete and verifiable denuclearization, it won’t really be thanks to Trump but rather thanks to Jong-un himself for being wise enough to cry “Uncle” in the face of a person even more unstable than himself.

Should an entente fail and one day Trump wishes to escalate things with North Korea, I doubt that Trump would find any tangible support from any of his now alienated allies.