It’s going to be an awkward weekend for President Donald Trump, who will be in Canada on Friday for the G7 summit.
Trump made his displeasure at having to attend the summit known, when he told aides that spending two days in Canada is not a good use of his time given that the talks he’s been so anxious to have with North Korea are set to take place in Singapore on Tuesday, June 12.
But his hesitance may also have something to do with the company. When the president begrudgingly touches down in Charlevoix, Quebec, he will face a hostile group of countries — all allies in the group of the world’s most developed and industrialized nations — that he has managed to insult and rile over trade and security issues.
While the leaders of all these countries are typically far more diplomatic in their style of engagement than President Trump, who takes more of a tweet-first, double-down-later approach to forming foreign policy, he will nonetheless find himself on the opposite side of the table from pretty much everyone there (with the possible, notable exception of Italy).
In other words, there might be a bit of a reckoning for the president, who after months of trashing his allies in domestic speeches, will have to face representatives from countries he’s accused of all kinds of things — from taking advantage of the United States to posing a national security threat.
Here’s a rundown of some of the issues each of our allies in attendance at the summit might have with President Trump:
Oof. Where to start? The host country has a reputation of being America’s polite neighbor to the north and the two have been trade and security partners for years. But Trump is unhappy with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) signed between the United States, Mexico, and Canada, and, as a result, has tarnished the once-cordial relationship.
He had warned that if the agreement could not be renegotiated (by U.S. terms, it seems, which would have all parties renegotiating the agreement every five years) he would impose steel and aluminum tariffs on Canadian imports. All parties agree that NAFTA needs to be updated — at the very least to include electronic commerce — but blowing it up would hurt U.S. businesses and cost jobs.
In late May, President Trump started a probe to see if auto imports posed a national security threat to the United States, and then, a week later, he imposed the steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada, Mexico, and the European Union, sending the ordinarily measured Canadians into about as close to a blind rage as they would allow themselves to fly into in public view. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne flat out called Trump a “bully,” saying that Canadians will no longer appeal to his “apparently inexhaustible vanity,” while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the allegations of his country being a national security threat to the United States “inconceivable” and the tariffs themselves “unacceptable.”
Trudeau later had to take a call from Trump, who mused that Canada burned down the White House in the War of 1812 (it was, in fact, the British who did so).
When it comes to dealing with President Trump’s strange mix of flattery and insults, probably no one has suffered as much as France’s President Emmanuel Macron.
He has grinned through Trump commenting on his wife’s appearance before the cameras, marveling that Brigitte Macron is “such good shape” and “beautiful.” Then, while visiting the While House in April, hoping to dissuade Trump from pulling out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and from imposing tariffs on E.U. steel and aluminum (Trump ultimately did both), Macron had to smile awkwardly, as Trump pretended to brush a piece of “dandruff” off his shoulder, inexplicably saying, “We have to make him perfect. He is perfect.”
Macron also compared a “terrible” phone call with Trump last week to the contents of a sausage: “As Bismarck used to say, if we explained to people how sausages were made, it’s unlikely they’d keep eating them,” he told reporters, having already called the U.S. tariffs “illegal” and a “mistake.”
France, along with the other European signatories (Germany and the United Kingdom) of the Iran nuclear deal, must also now find a way to keep the deal alive while keeping U.S. sanctions at bay.
Probably no leader has tried as hard as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to keep President Trump happy, while receiving so little in return.
Japan was Trump’s first stop on his Asian tour in November, where Abe kept him happy with a game of golf, hamburgers, and a white baseball cap that read “Donald & Shinzo, make alliance even greater.” (It probably went really well with the gold-plated golf club Abe gifted to Trump when he was elected).
Abe also bought more U.S. weapons at the behest of Trump, and has stoically ignored comments that seem designed to offend, like the time the U.S. president charged that Japan, a “samurai” nation, should have shot down North Korean missiles, even though Japan has arguably been the strongest regional supporter for Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against North Korea, even backing Trump’s decision to cancel the summit.
What has all the flattery and capitulation gotten Abe in return? Accusations that Japan is manipulating its currency, tariffs on Japanese auto imports (hiked from 2.5 percent to 25 percent), and the uneasy feeling that Trump isn’t going to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program, with Trump saying last Friday that he doesn’t want to use the term “maximum pressure” during the upcoming Singapore summit.
Abe is also worried that Trump might strike a deal with North Korea that would see Pyongyang getting rid of its long-range missiles while keeping the short-range ones (which could easily strike Japan).
However, even though Trump has made it clear that Japan’s trade and security interests aren’t a priority, Abe, who is in Washington on Thursday, will still ask Trump to push for the release of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 80s.
The United Kingdom
British Prime Minister Theresa May and President Trump have a hot-and-cold relationship (although it might be a tad cooler now that the president knows it was the Brits that burned down the White House).
The two started out holding hands in January 2017, but things have gone south since. For one thing, Britain also signed the Iran nuclear deal, or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and remains in support of it.
May has also disapproved of a number of the president’s actions, such as retweeting Islamophobic messages by a far-right British group after a terrorist attack on a concert venue in Manchester. When May said that was “the wrong thing to do,” Trump replied, via Twitter, that the British Prime Minister should, essentially, mind her own business.
.@Theresa_May, don’t focus on me, focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom. We are doing just fine!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 30, 2017
In one phone conversation during 2017, Trump complained to May over the criticism he’d been getting in British newspapers. Amid warnings that Trump would face protests in the streets when he arrived, he told the prime minister he would not be coming to the U.K. until she could promise him a warm welcome …. In the secure bunker underneath the prime minister’s office, her advisers listened in to the call in astonishment at Trump’s demand.
The official reason the president gave for cancelling the trip was that he disapproved of the new American embassy in London.
Reason I canceled my trip to London is that I am not a big fan of the Obama Administration having sold perhaps the best located and finest embassy in London for “peanuts,” only to build a new one in an off location for 1.2 billion dollars. Bad deal. Wanted me to cut ribbon-NO!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 12, 2018
May is trying to lead the United Kingdom out of the European Union under the “Brexit” strategy and is looking for stronger trade partnerships at a time when the president is on what can only be described as a protectionist bender.
The United Kingdom is also subject to those steel and aluminum tariffs. This is not playing well in the British press, with the Evening Standard reporting that U.K. Steel director Gareth Stace equated the move with Trump following through on a lethal threat: “President Trump had already loaded the gun and today we now know that the U.S. administration has unfortunately fired it and potentially started a damaging trade war.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is tough and has withstood many ups and downs with U.S. leadership. President Trump is the third U.S. president she’d dealt with since she took office in 2005, and will probably represent the greatest challenge to the chancellor, who has always remained pragmatic in the face of all crises, foreign or domestic.
Like her counterparts from France and the United Kingdom, Merkel will be tackling the issues of the tariffs and the JCPOA with the president, who is unlikely to budge on either one.
“I will of course try to speak to the U.S. president about the current problems that we have overall, in particular on Iran and on trade tariffs,” she told German lawmakers on Wednesday, adding that she was expecting “difficult discussions” to be had at the G7 summit.
She made no mention of Trump’s brand new ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, who assumed office on May 8 and, that very same day, took the undiplomatic step of telling German firms — via Twitter — to “wind down” on Iran (as in, follow U.S. lead and violate the JCPOA):
As @realDonaldTrump said, US sanctions will target critical sectors of Iran’s economy. German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately.
— Richard Grenell (@RichardGrenell) May 8, 2018
This did not go over well with the Social Democrats (part of Merkel’s government), with party leader Andrea Nahles replying, “It’s not my task to teach people about the fine art of diplomacy, especially not the U.S. ambassador. But he does appear to need some tutoring.”
Proceeding with even less caution, Grenell also gave an interview with the Breitbart website, where he praised Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, an anti-immigration figure, as a “rock star.” Grenell also said that he planned on “empowering” the far-right movement in Germany, a move seen as an attempt to sabotage Merkel.
While those in Merkel’s party are trying to downplay the comments, opposition figures are less generous. The Associated Press reports that Sahra Wagenknecht, the parliamentary leader of the Left Party, has called for Grenell’s removal, comparing him to a “feudal lord.”
Fresh from a mess of an inconclusive election in March that lead to a far-right coalition government, Italy might provide the only real reprieve for President Trump.
When the far right coalition party stares into the pond, it probably sees Trump’s image reflected back: Populist, anti-immigrant, with a penchant for unilateralism. And, like President Trump, it is accused of getting a leg up in the elections with the help of the Kremlin (and, like Trump, it vehemently denies those charges).
Its new prime minister, like Trump, has virtually no political experience. Guiseppe Conte, a law professor, is leading the coalition along with Matteo Salvini of the League Party (who idolizes Trump) and Luigi Di Maio, head of the (somewhat) anti-establishment Five-Star Movement.
Things did not go well for anyone when Italy hosted the G7 summit last year. President Trump was so isolated on key issues that some dubbed the event as the “G6+1.” There, Italians worked hard with their counterparts to bring Trump back into the fold on the Paris Climate Agreement and get some consensus on the importance of food security, a key driver of migration. No dice on either.