In 2013, before travelling to Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant, Donald Trump asked plaintively on Twitter whether Vladimir Putin would be attending, and “if so, will he become my new best friend?” Putin never showed, and President Trump is apparently still pining for the Russian president’s approval. Meanwhile, there may never have been a president of the United States who is so unremittingly hostile to America’s closest allies.
As he travels to Quebec City for the meeting of the Group of Seven industrialized economies, Trump mused Friday that Russia ought to be brought back to the group — for no discernable reason. Since no summary can do justice to Trump’s eloquent words, allow me to quote him in full:
It used to be the G-8, because Russia was in it, and now Russia’s not in it. Now, I love our country. I have been Russia’s worst nightmare. If Hillary got in, I think Putin is probably going, “Man I wish Hillary won,” because you see what I do. But with that being said, Russia should be in this meeting. Why are we having a meeting without Russia being in the meeting? And I would recommend, and it’s up to them, but Russia should be in the meeting, it should be a part of it. You know, whether you like it or not, and it may not be politically correct, but we have a world to run. And in the G-7, which used to be the G-8, they threw Russia out, they should let Russia come back in, because we should have Russia at the negotiating table.
Let’s set the context here. The G-7 began in the 1970s as a way for the most important industrialized democracies to gather together to discuss their common economic interests, with the group including the United States, the Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan. In the late 1990s, Russia was invited to join, but then in 2014 the members decided to expel Russia in response to its annexation of Crimea.
The addition of Russia was controversial at the time, but then-President Bill Clinton and then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair hoped that its inclusion would help entrench democracy in Russia and integrate it into the world economy. It was always an awkward fit, however, not just because of the rampant corruption in post-Soviet Russia and the fact that unlike the other democracies it has been ruled by a strongman for the past 18 years, but also because Russia is neither an ally of the other countries nor an important economic power. Given all the mischief Vladimir Putin creates, it can be easy to forget that Russia is only the 12th-largest economy in the world, about 1/14th the size of ours. At this point it’s hard to justify adding Russia to the G-7 when we aren’t adding an ally like South Korea, not to mention China, India or Brazil, since they all have larger and more globally significant economies than Russia does.
Yet Trump wants them there, and other than his apparently desperate desire to hang out with Putin, it’s hard to imagine why. We do know, however, that Trump sees no value in having a group of allies get together to discuss the challenges they face in the world today. It’s revealing that he said “we should have Russia at the negotiating table,” because the G-7 meeting is not a negotiation. It’s a chance for a group of allies to gather together and discuss their common interests and how they might act together to pursue them.
But to Trump, the very idea of international cooperation is anathema. He sees every relationship, whether among people or nations, in zero-sum terms. Either we’re the winner or the loser, and if it’s not obvious that we’re the winner then we must be the loser, the chump, the sap, the sucker. That’s why he sees it as such a great and brilliant victory that he pulled us out of a series of international agreements: the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris Climate Accord, the Iran nuclear agreement. The point isn’t that each of those deals were perfect, but to Trump they were disastrous primarily because they involved the United States joining with other countries in the hopes that everyone could emerge better off. That’s an idea he just cannot wrap his head around.
And since our allies are the ones with whom we have the most significant ties — economic, military, cultural — they’re most often the ones who wind up being the target of his ire as he tries to isolate the United States from the world. Here’s what he tweeted this morning:
Looking forward to straightening out unfair Trade Deals with the G-7 countries. If it doesn’t happen, we come out even better!
So as far as he’s concerned, the reason he’s going to Quebec City is to berate our allies on trade, and if they don’t give him what he wants, “we come out even better.” This too is revealing. How will we “come out even better” if we’re in a trade war, or if our relationships with our closest allies are damaged? Because as far as Trump is concerned, America is better off alone.
And he might just get his way. Here’s what French President Emmanuel Macron — who has worked hard to make himself Trump’s best friend among world leaders — tweeted this morning:
The American President may not mind being isolated, but neither do we mind signing a 6 country agreement if need be. Because these 6 countries represent values, they represent an economic market which has the weight of history behind it and which is now a true international force.
So things are going great! Just to make clear how much contempt he has for this whole exercise, Trump will be leaving the gathering early, meaning he’ll not only skip the meeting on climate change (of course), but he won’t be around for the traditional conclusion, when the members craft a joint statement and hold a press conference and photo opportunity where they show their unity by standing side by side.
President Trump doesn’t want anything to do with that. Allies? Who needs ’em?
This article was published by The Washington Post on the 8th of June 2018.
Paul Waldman is an opinion writer for the Plum Line blog. Before joining The Post, he worked at an advocacy group, edited an online magazine, taught at university and worked on political campaigns. He has authored or co-authored four books on media and politics, and his work has appeared in dozens of newspapers and magazines. He is also a senior writer at the American Prospect.