Look out, Biarritz, here comes “The Chosen One.”
The chic resort town on France’s picturesque Basque coastline will host a G-7 summit this weekend amid worries about a global recession and fraying alliances in Europe and Asia. President Donald Trump — who used that moniker Wednesday to describe himself as a savior in a decades-old trade dispute with China despite so far failing to resolve a single issue — will be center stage after one of the most erratic and strange weeks of his wild presidency.
Early in the two-day summit, the president is expected to make a pitch that other governments mirror his economic stewardship with tax cuts and moves like cutting regulations. That will come during a special session on the state of the global economy that his administration requested be added to the agenda amid worldwide recession worries — even though Trump has said he sees no such major economic slowdown on his own turf.
When Air Force One takes off for southwest France, Trump will leave many in Washington gasping for air and as confused as ever about his policy stances on everything from preventing mass shootings to what he really thinks about being called the “king of Israel.”
“Thank you to Wayne Allyn Root for the very nice words. “President Trump is the greatest President for Jews and for Israel in the history of the world, not just America, he is the best President for Israel in the history of the world...and the Jewish people in Israel love him....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 21, 2019
....like he’s the King of Israel. They love him like he is the second coming of God...But American Jews don’t know him or like him. They don’t even know what they’re doing or saying anymore. It makes no sense! But that’s OK, if he keeps doing what he’s doing, he’s good for.....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 21, 2019
Then there’s Greenland and his newest feud, this one with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, which his critics call one of the most bizarre episodes of a term that has been packed with them.
I promise not to do this to Greenland! pic.twitter.com/03DdyVU6HA— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 20, 2019
Trump on Wednesday trotted out one of his preferred insults for female political foes — “nasty” — when he expressed disgust over her disgust for his very public offer to purchase the island territory from her government.
“I looked forward to going, but I thought that the prime minister’s statement ... was nasty,” the U.S. diplomat in chief said of an early September official visit to Copenhagen that he scrapped earlier this week over the Greenland row. “I thought it was an inappropriate statement. All she had to do was say, ‘No, we wouldn’t be interested.’”
Denmark is a very special country with incredible people, but based on Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen’s comments, that she would have no interest in discussing the purchase of Greenland, I will be postponing our meeting scheduled in two weeks for another time....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 20, 2019
“But [they] can’t treat the United States of America the way they treated us under President Obama,” he said, flashing the bravado that is a central aspect of his “America first” foreign policy. “She's not talking to me. She's talking to the United States of America. You don’t talk to the United States that way, at least under me.”
With that statement — and his recent lobbying for Russia and Vladimir Putin to be allowed to return to the former G-8 — the president sent a clear signal to the six world leaders with whom he will hold private talks this weekend.
In short: He is in no mood to find common ground.
“Respect has to be shown to the United States,” the president told reporters under a blazing late August sun on the South Lawn of the White House on Wednesday.
The Greenland flap and Denmark visit cancelation “suggest, as some in the Trump administration have [said] before, that alliances, common values, and rules are neither to be trusted nor respected, that old-fashioned sovereign control is the measure of national power, and that the sovereignty of smaller nations is of little importance,” said the Atlantic Council’s Daniel Fried, who held senior national security and diplomatic positions under Republican and Democratic presidents.
Just what the quick-to-change his mind Trump brings up — or possibly even agrees to in private meetings with other leaders — is just about anyone’s guess. Several senior White House officials this week used the same phrase when pressed on Trump’s thinking on policy matters and relations with America’s allies: “Anything’s possible.”
The New York-based real estate mogul and reality television host-turned-president has appeared isolated during other gatherings of world leaders. In Biarritz, however, he will have a tag-team partner in newly installed British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is often compared to Trump.
“We sort of view this through the lens of can we improve on ... last year’s G-7, where [German] Chancellor [Angela] Merkel after the meeting described the G-7 as sobering and a bit depressing,” said Heather Conley, who was deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs under President George W. Bush. “And of course, we all remember that infamous photo. So I guess we’ll see if there’s a photo contest for the G-7 in Biarritz.”
She was referring to the so-called “family photo” snapped during last year’s G-7 summit that showed the leaders of the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, France, Japan and Italy all smiling warmly with the Saint Lawrence River behind them in bucolic La Malbaie in Canada’s Quebec province.
But there’s Trump in the middle, standing stiffly without a smile amid a running feud with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and tensions with others in the picture, including Merkel.
Beyond the body language of that annual group photo, the summit’s real action will take place when Trump meets privately with individual world leaders. There’s plenty to discuss, from elusive trade pacts he wants to ink with the European Union and U.K. to differences over how to handle Iran to a wide chasm over climate policy — and beyond.
The White House announced Thursday just which other world leaders the president will join for so-called “bilateral” meetings. That list includes the leaders of the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, France, India and Canada, a senior administration official told reporters. His face-to-face session with Johnson likely will be the weekend’s diplomatic main event.
Great discussion with Prime Minister @BorisJohnson today. We talked about Brexit and how we can move rapidly on a US-UK free trade deal. I look forward to meeting with Boris this weekend, at the @G7, in France!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 19, 2019
‘Might makes right’
Despite many similarities between Trump and Johnson, there are plenty of things that could produce fireworks.
“There’s a big difference on climate. Boris Johnson views himself as a real climate activist, and [I’m] wondering if that conversation will make the bilateral agenda with President Trump,” Conley said. “And then there is real differences on Huawei and, really, how the U.K. sees Chinese investment.”
Experts are also curious about the extent to which Trump will use the Johnson meeting to advocate for his envisioned U.S.-U.K. trade pact to poke House and Senate Democrats, most of whom oppose a one-on-one deal with London. They would prefer that America’s closest ally remain part of the European Union and help that body negotiate an agreement with the Trump administration.
Another matter that will be closely monitored by Trump’s colleagues and foreign policy experts is just how strongly he lobbies for Russia to be allowed back into the group after the Obama administration successfully pushed for Moscow’s ouster.
Trump told reporters on Tuesday it would be “much more appropriate” if the former G-8 were reestablished, saying he would favor a G-7 member country formally proposing a Russian return.
The senior administration official who briefed reporters Thursday was much more circumspect, contending Trump was merely stating an opinion that it would make things easier if Putin was present because so many of the issues G-7 leaders discuss involve Russia. For instance, one topic of the Trump-Merkel meeting will be Trump’s desire that Europe cut its dependence on Russian gas — and purchase more from the U.S.
Allowing Russia to rejoin the group “may very well come up” during the summit, the senior official said, almost brushing off Trump’s comments. While the president has said he would support another country formally requesting Moscow be let back in, the senior official said a formal request from the Russian government would need to “happen first.”
Some former U.S. officials, however, are highly skeptical about putting the G-8 band back together.
“Trump wants to invite Putin’s Russia back, seemingly in the name of a rebooted great power, might-makes-right system that the United States, at its best, sought to supplant,” according to Fried. “The United States and its democratic allies, such as Denmark, deserve better.”
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