Donald Trump ran for President of the United States on a simple theme: “America First!”
Three years later, it turns out what he really meant was “America Alone.”
One need look no further than the just ended Group of Seven Summit in Biarritz, France. It was considered a success simply because the President of the United States did not leave in a fit of anger, and then tweet that he was removing his name from the joint agreement he had just signed.
French President Emmanuel Macron solved that problem in Biarritz by doing away with the traditional final summit communique — a lengthy detailed document of concrete goals and proposed action. His aim was two-fold: to highlight the major issues of the day and, perhaps more importantly, to keep everybody calm.
Or in the case of Trump, at least prevent a Twitter rant.
To a large degree, Macron succeeded. At a joint news conference at the end of the summit, President Trump said he felt the “unity” the French leader so wanted to achieve.
“We got along great,” he said before heading back to Washington.
That’s a far cry from a year ago, when Trump left the G-7 in Canada lambasting the leader of the host country by calling Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “dishonest and weak.”
But while the summit in France did not turn into a shouting match among allies, there were signs that the divisions Trump has sowed in the G-7 are growing ever wider.
The President of the United States was a no-show at a summit session on climate change. His push to reverse Russia’s 2014 expulsion from what was then the Group of Eight got a cool reception. And he rejected appeals to ease his trade war with China.
Again, the America that was on display was “America Alone.”
This was a summit of low-expectations because no more could be accomplished in the Age of Trump.
These leaders had weighty issues to discuss. And what got most of the attention? The diplomatic whiplash caused by Trump’s constant wavering on China.
Just before the summit, he issued a tweet in which he declared the head of the U.S. central bank to be a bigger enemy than China’s XI Jinping. He also announced an increase in tariffs on certain Chinese goods. Investors responded by sending the stock market into a nosedive.
But by the time Trump was wrapping up his stay in Biarritz, he was calling Xi “a great leader” and a brilliant man.” He was also saying that Chinese officials had reached out by phone, that trade negotiations would be resuming and that Beijing really wants to make a deal.
The Chinese aren’t saying much in response. They may be too confused.
As are the rest of us.
It seems that Trump’s “America Alone” foreign policy is based on the whims of one man and those whims seem to change with each passing hour.
The President says that it is all by design — that this is how he made big deals as a real estate developer.
“It’s the way I negotiate,” he told reporters in Biarritz, adding “it’s done very well for me over the years.”
But is it the way to go in international diplomacy?
We are seeing signs of strain in the world economy… the evidence of the destructive power of climate change is growing with each passing day… his “friend” in North Korea is ordering missile tests… and his “pal” in Moscow may be plotting a cyber-strategy to disrupt the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
Not a great result.
Trump’s supporters are quick to say that maybe it is about time for an American leader to shake up the world order. But what if the result is chaos?
Consider this one paragraph from the Washington Post:
“Trump has lurched wildly in the past week, proposing tax cuts and then pulling them off the table; planning a trip to Denmark and then canceling it; ordering U.S. companies to prepare to leave China and then backing away. Aides have pushed to explain his comments by brushing aside some and doubling down on others, but world leaders still don’t know how to decipher his statements, and some have stopped trying.”
But maybe not Emmanuel Macron.
He provided the one bit of hope at the G-7 summit. Macron — who has been trying to salvage the Iran nuclear deal — invited the Iranian foreign minister to Biarritz and let it be known that he is trying broker a meeting between the Presidents of the United States and Iran.
Trump said he would be willing to meet with Iran’s Hassan Rouhani “if the circumstances were correct.” Rouhani responded that talks would only be possible if Washington first lifts sanctions on Iran.
Both men will be in New York in September for the United Nation’s General Assembly session and in the world of Trump, anything could happen.
But here is something else to consider in the wake of the 2019 G-7. Iran won’t negotiate solely with Donald Trump. Officials there say efforts to revive the nuclear agreement can only take place if all the original parties are involved and that would mean bringing France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China into the process.
In this case — and in so many others — “America Alone” just won’t work.