Now Trump is about to embark on his own hostile incursion north of the border. The Group of Seven industrial nations will hold its annual summit in Quebec on Friday and Saturday. The meeting — with the exception of some turbulent years when Russian membership made the bloc the Group of Eight — is historically a safe space for the leaders of the world's wealthy democracies.
But not this year. The buildup to the summit has been subsumed by anger over Trump's protectionism. The White House's decision to target metal imports from NAFTA and European Union nations as a “national security” threat infuriated American allies and led to an unusual rebuke from the six other G-7 finance ministers last weekend. Beyond trade, fundamental disagreements over the Iran nuclear deal and climate change may mean the United States does not even sign the usual joint communique issued at the end of the summit. It would be one of the most tangible demonstrations yet of Trump's “America First” agenda.
“G-7 meetings are equivalent to a roomful of fashion directors deciding what the color of the season will be,” said Krzyszstof Pelc, a political scientist at McGill University in Montreal, to Today's WorldView. “Collectively, these heads of state decide on the central themes of global governance for the year to come.” This year, Pelc said, we will likely see “a stand against U.S. unilateralism.”
The battle lines were already drawn by Thursday morning, when Trudeau stood alongside French President Emmanuel Macron at a joint news conference. Both leaders have spent considerable energy over the past year attempting to find common cause with the Trump administration, hoping to coax Washington back toward its traditional role at the center of the transatlantic alliance. But Trudeau's government is locked in difficult NAFTA negotiations with the United States, and Macron has been stung by Trump's decisions to quit both the Paris accord and the nuclear deal with Iran, disregarding Macron's repeated pleas.
“We are going to defend our industries and our workers,” warned Trudeau, adding that Trump's tariffs were “unacceptable actions” that “are hurting his own citizens. American jobs are on the line because of his actions.”
Macron was blunt. “A trade war doesn’t spare anyone. It will start first of all to hurt U.S. workers, and the cost of raw materials will rise, and industries will become less competitive,” he said. He warned against America becoming more “isolationist” and going against “its own history, its own values.”
There are reports that Trump himself was not eager to even go to Quebec, seeing the G-7 as a distraction ahead of next week's summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Trump resents the lectures he'll likely receive from Trudeau, Macron and others. “Trump has griped periodically both about German Chancellor Angela Merkel — largely because they disagree on many issues and have had an uneasy rapport — as well as British Prime Minister Theresa May, whom he sees as too politically correct,” my colleagues reported.
White House officials have attempted to soften the mood. “The president wants to go on the trip,” said Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council. “The president is at ease with all of these tough issues. He’s proven himself to be a leader on the world stage, and he’s achieved great success, as I might add, in foreign policy. So I don’t think there’s any issue there at all.”
But many analysts disagree. “We’re entering new territory with these trade actions here. There really is long-term damage being done to the relationships,” said Jamie Fly, a senior fellow and director of the Future of Geopolitics and Asia programs at the German Marshal Fund, to The Washington Post.
“We’ve isolated ourselves,” said Nicholas Burns, a longtime U.S. diplomat now at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. “We’ve isolated ourselves on the climate change agreement. We’ve isolated ourselves on Iran, and we’ve isolated ourselves now on trade.”
Looking on from afar, Russian President Vladimir Putin used the moment of discord to score a point. He likened Trump's punitive moves on trade to the sanctions that the United States and Europe slapped on Moscow after it annexed Crimea in 2014. Now they, too, Putin argued, have become victims of Washington's bullying. “Our partners probably thought that these counterproductive policies would never affect them,” Putin said in a nationally broadcast call-in show. “No one wanted to listen, and no one wanted to do anything to stop these tendencies. Here we are.”
The attendees at the G-7 may pay little heed to Putin's gloating, but former U.S. diplomats are worried about what comes next. “The isolation from our G-7 allies undermines the United States’ ability to work with them to confront real challenges in Russia or China or the Middle East,” Dan Price, a former Bush administration official, told the New York Times. “I certainly hope the president and his team will take the opportunity presented by the G-7 summit to find a path forward.”
For now, though, that seems like a long shot. When asked by reporters whether he believed Trump was bothered by growing American isolation, Macron offered a strikingly cold response, seemingly writing off the rest of Trump's time in office. “When you're saying that President Trump doesn't really care, maybe you're right, but no one lives forever,” he said. “Our countries and the commitments we make will extend beyond our lives.”
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