HIS MAD EXISTENCE
At the G20, Trump Strikes a Pose—and the World Moves On
It’s hard to make America seem irrelevant at a summit like this. It used to be the foundation of the international order. No longer.
During my four years in the Obama White House, I did my my fair share of summiting—I even have two G20s under my belt.
I grew accustomed at those events to doing post ops with the president’s team to scope out how the day’s meetings went. These after action sessions were important moments to reflect honestly on what was and wasn’t achieved so that we could strategize on next steps for meetings on Day 2.
So, if we’re being honest about what’s taken place in Buenos Aires, Day 1 for Individual 1 (this president) was a clear signal that they won’t cry for Trump in Argentina. G20 leaders are moving ahead with their own agendas whether President Donald J.Trump likes it or not.
At its foundation, the G20’s whole purpose is anathema to Trump. The coordination and cooperation on international economic issues that the G20 is built on aren’t positive buzz words for him. He’s threatened to leave the World Trade Organization, unilaterally backed out of trade deals, and withdrawn from the Paris Climate Accord.
Trump has irreconcilable differences with the G20, but that didn’t prevent this year’s host from charging forward, absent the United States.
Argentine President Mauricio Macri specifically called for global responses to the very issues that the American president either doesn’t believe in (climate change), doesn’t want to cooperate on (international trade), or doesn’t think is important (sustainable development).
The world isn’t waiting for President Trump. Despite his absence other leaders are moving ahead with their agenda while he watches (and tweets) from the sidelines.
The Macron Model
While the U.S. used to lead coalitions of allies to hold murderers and other global bullies accountable for killing people and breaking international laws, Trump made very clear before the Summit that he was on the team of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) no matter what. While American allies cut arms sales and weigh other options to punish MBS’s crimes against humanity—in Yemen, in Turkey where Jamal Khashoggi was killed, and more—the president went rogue and issued a statement absolving the prince of any crime worth punishment.
Thankfully, others aren’t following America’s lead. French President Macron sought out MBS at the G20 and while we don’t know the full extent of their discussion, Macron said he thinks the prince should pay closer attention to him: “You never listen to me.” Macron’s team later added that he pressed MBS to let international investigators look into Khashoggi’s murder. And, with Prime Minister Theresa May reportedly planning to push for a robust investigation into Khashoggi’s killing, our allies aren’t emulating the U.S. response, they’re charting their own path, together, and without us.
The Macron model of confronting peers, even allies, is a sharp contrast to the Trump’s approach of avoiding tough face to face conversations with other leaders including Vladimir Putin. Macron directly called out Russian misbehavior when he met Putin in May 2017 after taking office—and in another break with President Trump, he didn’t cancel a meeting with Putin over the situation in Ukraine, he used a meeting to talk about Russian aggression, Syria, and more. Other leaders, like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have said they’ll take a similar approach.
This is a clear signal that President Trump didn’t coordinate his own postponement of a Putin meeting with other allies; there was no coalition effort to give Putin a diplomatic cold shoulder for his aggression in the Kerch Strait. The President made a decision to postpone a meeting either without coordinating with our allies or in contrast to what they planned to do.
Putin’s Party in the USA
And even if he’s being pressed by several G20 members, it’s Putin’s party in the USA today—because while he’s high-fiving MBS and mingling with G20 leaders in Buenos Aires, his mission to sow divisions in the U.S. got a whole new hook courtesy of Press Secretary Sarah Sanders on Friday when she blamed the Russian witch hunt hoax—also known as the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s complex counterintelligence operation against our country during the 2016 election that may have involved members of the Trump campaign—for undermining our relationship with Russia.
She failed to blame Russia for attacking our democracy during that operation and instead undercut our law enforcement system, a pillar of our democracy, because of the investigation into Russia’s attack. It’s publicly available information—from just last month—that Russia wants to undermine the credibility of our democratic institutions.
As if just to check another Russian box—our intel community also said in October (echoing previous assessments) that Russia wants to divide Americans along political lines – Sanders used the president’s favorite phraseology, “witch hunt,” for what he has painted as a conspiracy by democrats to undermine him.
So while Trump meets and greets in Argentina, his team is actively (and knowingly) aiding and abetting Russia’s mission objectives against the United States.
If the president is open to a Day 1 after action report as he preps for more meetings, the truth is his relevance at the G20 is diminishing rapidly. As his peers worked their phones overnight to craft strategies for Day 2, the president’s phone was not ringing off the hook.