Arguably the most presidential periods of Donald Trump’s administration were in February when he addressed a joint session of Congress and in May on his first foreign foray when he visited Saudi Arabia and Israel, followed by Belgium for a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) meeting and Italy for a Group of Seven (G7) meeting.
The latter occurred at a period of time when it was particularly hot in the DC kitchen (given the election tampering investigation and the President having just fired the FBI Director). It was a good time to get outta Dodge.
Given some of the events of the last week or so, such as the President’s most un-presidential and erratic personal tweet storms, now seems like another good opportunity to leave town and be perceived as more presidential…which he did for a day in Poland follow by the Group of 20 (G20) meeting on Friday and Saturday in Hamburg, Germany.
The G20 meeting and current global circumstances, however, makes this trip a decidedly more dicey endeavor than his last trip. Don’t expect a Trump bump in popularity.
The G20, first established in 1999 as a forum for addressing and seeking global financial stability with finance ministers and central bank leaders, began with a rocky start.
Many still recall protestors at an initial gathering dubbed the Battle in Seattle. The controversies have continued, including at the 2009 G20 Pittsburgh meeting which included police using tear gas to disperse demonstrators, yet the leaders agreed to regulate previously unsupervised financial instruments called “swaps” (among other things).
Demonstrators have been out in force this past week in Hamburg (German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s hometown and a left-learning city).
On Wednesday, zombie-like demonstrators in what was dubbed a “Welcome to Hell” march continued the long tradition of the G20 protests. (Protests at times have criticized the G20 for doing too much, and other times for not doing enough—for example, on addressing climate change).
With that backdrop, the G20 remains a huge hairy deal, the leaders of which represent nations comprising 85 percent of the GWP (global world production), 80 percent of global trade and two-thirds of the population.
These are key leaders with whom President Trump should work if he’s to do what the White House touted as the goals of the trip: to promote American prosperity, protect American interests, and provide American leadership. There are, however, many challenges.
1—A key G20 agenda item will be the issue of global warming and the Paris Climate Agreement which all G20 leaders—save President Trump—support.
They will also discuss free trade at a time when many agreements are being pursued, including but not limited to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and even a new European Union (EU)/Japan free trade deal which is on the verged of being inked.
Here again, President Trump will be the G20 oddball in that he has withdrawn from the 11-nation TPP, continued to threaten withdrawing from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), talked about about imposing a 35 percent tariff on German autos, and an expected steel import tariff and/or quota.
His isolationist view is in sharp contrast to the more globalist view of the majority of G20 leaders.
Finally, the G20 agenda includes immigration. The contrast here: the EU has welcomed hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees while President Trump seeks to ban citizens from some Muslim nations to the U.S. and to build a “big beautiful wall” on the U.S./Mexican border to keep people out.
Given the issues to be discussed, Mr. Trump’s desire to promote American prosperity with G20 leaders will be definitively difficult, if not impossible.
2—On the President’s desire to protect American interests, there too, are high hurdles. At the NATO meeting he neglected to tout Article 5, the main mantra of NATO that an attack on one is an attack on all. Instead, he chided NATO leaders for not contributing enough to the organization to the obvious smirks of those in attendance.
Yet now, in light of North Korea’s continued aggressive talk aimed squarely at the U.S., development of nuclear weapons and the launch on July 4th of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the U.S. (at least, it is said, Alaska), a common response from G20 leaders would be of assistance.
Here again, given the President’s rough relations with world leaders, he can’t expect much cooperation. (He should provide leadership here and make the case that North Korea is a global threat demanding a global repsonse, not just a threat to the U.S.)
To date, the President has pinned his hopes to rein in North Korea’s nuclear program on Chinese President Xi Jinping, whom he wined and dined at the Trump private Mar-a-Lago Club in April.
China not only shares a border with North Korea but has significant trade-related influence. Those hopes, however, seem to be evaporating as evidenced by a Trump tweet in recent days complaining about the 40 percent increase in first quarter trade between China and North Korea.
President Trump may completely close that door if he should impose steel import tariffs/quotas which would disproportionally impact China as they produce more than half of all global steel (and ten times what is produced in the U.S.).
3—As for President Trump demonstrating America leadership, he gave a positive speech with a different tone which was warmly received in Warsaw on Thursday and spoke about the importance of the West—even finally endorsing Article 5—a welcome and truly presidential effort. As Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said, it was a “re-set” on how the U.S. will deal with the EU.
Kudos to the President. However, given the President’s out of the mainstream position on key international policy matters, it remains to be seen if he can do anymore.
A Pew Research poll conducted in 37 nations revealed confidence in the U.S. President to do the right thing on international relations has fallen from 64 percent last year to 22 percent now.
Leaders such as the G20 host, German Chancellor Merkel who is up for election this fall, won’t be eager to be seen as too close to Mr. Trump. In fact, his policy and political positions have essentially thrown the global Pick-up Sticks game into the air.
Which nation or nations will become leaders is currently in doubt. Interestingly, China seems to be trying to fill the void created by the U.S. on a number of fronts, namely on trade.
4—And finally, what of the highly anticipated bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G20 between Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Trump?
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Mr. Trump said he would love to have better U.S.-Russian relations. But given issues like Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the concomitant sanctions imposed upon Russia, tampering with our election and related investigations, and the conflict in Syria, it’s doubtful any significant short-term thaw in relations will be seen.
That said, our President, if anything, is unpredictable and last year he said that Mr. Putin was a much nicer guy than he. Who knows what might be accomplished.
We will see how it all works out. For my part, I hope our President does better than expected. The Warsaw speech was a good start, but given the tremendous challenges—many imposed upon the President by himself—there is a long road ahead.