Trump, the G-7 and the absence of American leadership

Trump, the G-7 and the absence of American leadership
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The lack of American leadership among the most powerful nations critical to U.S. national security was on full display at the Group of Seven meeting in France. The meeting accomplished nothing, but most attendees accepted as success the fact that U.S. President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump opens new line of impeachment attack for Democrats Bloomberg to spend 0M on anti-Trump ads in battleground states New witness claims first-hand account of Trump's push for Ukraine probes MORE did not turn the meeting into an international disaster.

President Emmanuel MacronEmmanuel Jean-Michel MacronNATO is not brain dead yet Trump, NATO chief to meet at White House Macron: NATO experiencing 'brain death' MORE, the French host of the G-7, and his European, Canadian, and Japanese colleagues effectively controlled the potential damage that Trump could have caused but didn’t. Part of Trump’s collegial demeanor was created by the diplomatic skills of the representatives of member states who have learned how to engage the president without provoking him nor compromising their own positions.

Trump also had no interest in blowing up the G-7. He left the United States for France in the wake of a series of public statements the previous week that made him seem to be in a full panic — sometimes delusional and out of control — over his sagging poll numbers and projections on the economy. Someone must have convinced him that a calmer image was in his political interest. There is also the consideration that Trump will be the host of the next G-7 in the U.S. next year — just a few months before the presidential election.

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He will undoubtedly try to host a glamorous G-7 at his resort and to visit European capitals in the coming year to show off his stature with allies to American voters. Open fights with these leaders now might create problems for him later.

I’m sure the national leaders of the G-7 all went home relieved that disaster was avoided. Trump had no potential to move the Europeans toward his policies, and he knew it. Rather than throw a tantrum, he showed little of his usual antagonism toward allies. In exchange, allies accepted that nothing substantive could be accomplished even though the world is fraught with issues needing international attention.

Here is just a short list of problems which were either not considered or on which no consensus could be reached:

This G-7 placed no emphasis on the consolidation of democracy in the world, human rights, or rule of law.

Trump’s contribution to the meeting was the ridiculous proposal to forgive and forget and let Vladimir Putin back in the G7 — something Russia has not formally requested. 

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Trump’s scheme to forgive and forget is a capitulation to Putin, who was booted out of the G-7 for his invasion and annexation of parts of Ukraine, which are ongoing. What’s more, the aggressive Russian cyberattacks on American democracy haven’t stopped and are the same techniques Russia employs to attack democracy and to stir up political unrest throughout Europe. What’s more, as recently as last year, Russia attempted to assassinate political opponents located in Britain, and Putin’s military continues to support Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, one of the most brutal dictators in the region. This is not a regime that merits reward.

What the G-7 showed starkly was just how little influence the United States now has with its critical allies and how far Trump has taken the U.S. away from traditional democratic values.

The Europeans avoided an international spectacle by treating the president of the United States like the drunk uncle at Thanksgiving dinner.

But the uncle’s problem, of course, didn’t go away. It lingers.

Before flying back to Washington, Trump stayed true to form by hawking his personal resort as the venue for next year’s G-7 in the U.S.

It can’t get much more humiliating for America than that.

James W. Pardew is a former U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria and career Army intelligence officer. He has served as Deputy Assistant Secretary General of NATO and is the author of Peacemakers: American Leadership and the End of Genocide in the Balkans.