Tumultuous week in US rattles allies around the globe

Tumultuous week in US rattles allies around the globe

U.S. allies around the world have reacted with shock at the death of George Floyd and President TrumpDonald John TrumpDavis: Supreme Court decision is bad news for Trump, good news for Vance Meadows trying to root out suspected White House leakers by feeding them info: Axios Pressley hits DeVos over reopening schools: 'I wouldn't trust you to care for a house plant let alone my child' MORE’s threat to use military force to crack down on protests, dealing another blow to their already bruised relationship with Washington.

Their alarm was illustrated by a press conference Tuesday by Canadian Prime Minister Justin TrudeauJustin Pierre James TrudeauIran blames communication, missile battery alignment for shooting down Ukrainian jet Trudeau: Canada handled coronavirus better than many countries, 'including our neighbor' Trump and Mexico: 3 basic truths of the bilateral relationship revealed MORE, held one day after Trump used pepper balls and smoke bombs to disperse a crowd protesting Floyd’s death in front of the White House. Asked about his response to the forcible removal of demonstrators, Trudeau paused for 21 seconds before answering.

"We all watch in horror and consternation at what is going on in the United States,” he told reporters. “It is time to pull people together.”

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For many viewers, Trudeau’s halting answer — and his decision not to directly mention Trump — spoke volumes about the unease other countries have felt watching the recent tumult.

“Our prime minister was at a loss for words,” said Donald Abelson, an expert on U.S.-Canadian relations at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, Canada. “I think he has become so incredibly frustrated and disillusioned with the Trump administration that he was somewhat caught off guard and had to think about [his response.]”

In Canada and elsewhere around the world, the killing of Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in police custody after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes, has sparked universal condemnation. The past week has seen demonstrations spread globally, from Toronto to Paris to Auckland, and drawn public displays of solidarity from international celebrities and athletes. It has also renewed conversations about racism in Western countries. 

Sudha David-Wilp, deputy director of the German Marshall Fund’s Berlin office, said the response in Europe reflected the “anger, frustration [and] despair” felt over Floyd’s death and other instances of police brutality, which have only added to Trump’s lack of popularity on the continent.

“I’m sure right now a lot of Europeans are feeling a little bit queasy about what’s going in the United States,” she said.

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Adding to the outrage are reported instances of U.S. law enforcement using aggressive tactics against foreign journalists covering the protests. In one incident, members of the Australian TV media in D.C. were seen being treated roughly by police officers in riot gear, prompting the country’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, to demand an investigation by U.S. officials. In another, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas raised concerns after a team of German broadcast journalists reported they were confronted by police while covering protests in Minneapolis.

The fallout from Floyd’s death has intensified criticism of Trump abroad and put pressure on even some of his staunchest allies to speak out, though many leaders have shied away from directly rebuking the president.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in his first comments on the unrest Wednesday that Floyd’s death was “appalling” and “inexcusable,” while adding that protests “should take place in a lawful and reasonable way.” Johnson has also been pressed on whether British arms and riot gear are being exported for use by U.S. law enforcement.

The European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, likewise said member states were “shocked and appalled” by the killing of Floyd, while Margaritis Schinas, another EU official, argued that deploying troops to respond to protesters, as Trump did in the D.C. area on Monday, was “not the European way of life,” according to the Financial Times.

The widespread backlash suggests a new low point in U.S. foreign relations since Trump took office. The president has long been accused of alienating Washington’s closest partners with his hardline approach to immigration, defense spending and trade. Those criticisms have only grown louder since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, during which Trump imposed travel restrictions on countries without warning and announced an end to the U.S. relationship with the World Health Organization.

The gulf between Washington and its allies was underscored earlier this week when German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced she would not attend Trump’s planned G-7 summit due to the pandemic, a move largely seen as a snub.

“Right now European leaders don’t necessarily want to be used as a photo prop for President Trump and realize it’s better to be sort of distant,” David-Wilp said. 

Now, with growing outrage over his administration’s response to the protests, Trump has found himself increasingly isolated on the world stage, at a time when China is seeking to expand its influence in the wake of criticism over its handling of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The dynamic has left U.S. allies walking a fine line in their response to the president ahead of the November election, something exemplified by Merkel's comments on Floyd's killing.

In a televised interview Thursday, Merkel condemned the killing as a “terrible” example of racism. But when asked about Trump’s role in stoking unrest, she refrained from directly criticizing him, according to Politico.

“What I discuss with the president, I don’t discuss in public," the German leader said, "but what I do say is that this country is very polarized and I hope that people can come together."