G7 leaders meeting in Quebec, recognising that America’s foreign-affairs mess can only get messier, should pour on the pressure
It’s tough to be America’s friend right now,” the homegrown US news network CNN opined in an online lead commentary a few days ago, “but life is good for US adversaries.” It said President Donald Trump could expect a chilly reception at this weekend’s G7 summit in Canada because of his country’s trade conflicts and other spats with the rest of the world, including with close allies.
Leaders of the globe’s most advanced economies are meeting in La Malbaie, Quebec, a tourist town given its name by French explorer Samuel de Champlain, an epithet meaning “poor bay”. As if that weren’t inauspicious enough, the gathering unfolds against a backdrop of a Trump comment now being downplayed as a not-so-witty joke. In a phone call last week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked Trump how he could justify a tariff policy wreaking havoc among US allies as a “national security” issue for the US. “Didn’t you guys burn down the White House?” Trump reportedly quipped in response, referring to a watershed moment in the War of 1812.
Trump was at least showing an inkling of knowledge of history (British troops, not Canadian settlers, torched James Madison’s White House on their way to handing the young United States its first military defeat), but Vanity Fair magazine quoted a source as fuming, “It’s no laughing matter.” True enough, given the bitter feelings generated by Trump’s whimsical trade actions, which threaten to upend geopolitics worldwide.
Alienated friends are a poor audience when you’re trying to demonise foes. If targets for attack are being selected, you want supportive listeners. America’s war on terror, for example, was controversial enough amid persistent grumbling at home over the official narrative of the 9/11 tragedy and the abject failure of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. North Korea, Iran, Syria – the entire Middle East for that matter – constitutes a foreign-policy powder keg, a situation in which the US requires absolute trust if it wishes to retain a lead role. That trust, however, is now under grievous threat.
A central question for every caring person in this world is whether the great beacon of American democracy can continue to light the path forward. We have all counted on the US. It has brought great benefits to the world at large. This question, though, goes beyond partisan debate over continued Republican control of the White House and Congress versus the uncertainty that would ensue amid Democrat attempts to reverse Trump’s policies.
The CNN report concluded that “Trump’s feuds with Washington’s traditional partners are sure to test his promise that his ‘America First’ ideology does not mean America alone.” Yet there is irony in this, if the claims of Trump’s domestic rivals that he’s a “Russian plant” in the service of Vladimir Putin can be proved true.
If all the direst accusations about Trump are indeed true, cleaning up after him will not be easy. This mess would only get messier. The G7 summit affords other nations the first major chance to express their disenchantment, even if the more diplomatically schooled heads of state choose to do so behind closed doors. If the US is unmoved by global dissent, there will doubtless be more-open displays of discontent. If courteous diplomacy fails to curb Trump’s erratic, perilous behaviour or empower his advisers to force him to change course, the United States faces a painful downfall.