The World’s Leading Countries Turn Their Backs On The US

Global Outlook

Global Weekly Briefing: G20 Edition

President Donald Trump walks off after being greeted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel after arriving at the G20 Summit, Friday, July 7, 2017, in Hamburg, Germany. — (AP/Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump walks off after being greeted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel after arriving at the G20 Summit, Friday, July 7, 2017, in Hamburg, Germany. — (AP/Evan Vucci)

The G20 Summit in Hamburg, a forum of the top 20 economies aimed at coordination on economic policy and other mutually beneficial areas, brought with it a slew of controversy befitting the Trump era so far. The summit, held July 7–8, yielded all of the Trumpian trappings we have become accustomed to: protests, nepotism, further evidence of Russian collusion, and the type of senseless cacophony that has become a signature of the Trump administration. The difference between this summit and every other event of the Trump presidency was that all of the aforementioned took place on a global stage, for all the world to see. And see it, they did.

Capitulation on Multiple Fronts

Most of the headlines were dominated by three major events. Trump’s speech in Poland presiding the events set the tone for the days to follow. Though he reaffirmed his support for NATO and the West, his talk of “preserving of civilization” and repeated complaints of media criticism pleased only the populists, xenophobes, and Russophiles who still laud Trump abroad. Poland’s populist President, Andrzej Duda, doubtless heeded Trump’s words as all the affirmation he needed to continue his party’s suppression of the press and minority rights.

The biggest event of the G20 was Trump’s two-hour meeting with Putin, widely derided as a wholesale appeasement and a seemingly complete absolution of Russian wrongdoing on the part of Trump. Most heinous was a proposed agreement on joint cyber security unit with Russia, the very country accused of massive cyber attacks and election tampering in many parts of the world, including the US. The Trump administration, for their part, swore up and down that they did, in fact, press Putin on election hacking. In the end, Trump backed away from their support of a joint measure, though not before some stinging criticism, including some from their own allies:

The third major controversy was Trump’s allowing of his daughter Ivanka to sit in for him during parts of the meetings. This was first reported by Russian media sources, who posted a picture of Ivanka seated at a table right next to Xi Jinping. While aides sitting in for leaders is not itself abnormal, the fact that it was his daughter — an unelected and wholly unqualified individual with no capacity to be in such meetings — marks both a new low for the nepotistic nature of the Trump administration, as well an outright dereliction of Trump’s duty as head of state.

It Wasn’t All Terrible…

Trump did manage some small diplomatic victories. A US-Russia enforced ceasefire in parts of Syria was announced at the meeting. Several aid commitments were also touted, including over $639 million to the United Nations World Food Programme to provide food assistance to some 30 million people threatened by drought and conflict throughout central Africa, as well as $50 million for the creation of the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative, a new World Bank-managed fund.

The ceasefire, brokered along with Jordan, calls for de-escalation zones in the southern part of Syria, while also allowing for humanitarian assistance corridors. On the face of it, any ceasefire in a country torn apart by six years of war is welcome. But the five previous ceasefire attempts have never lasted more than a few months; the last never even took effect. With US-allied rebels closing in on ISIS’ last stronghold in Raqqa, this may also be a ploy aimed at allowing the forces of Bashar Assad an opportunity to mobilize into better positions and begin retaking lost territory. Such a move would surely worsen the prospects of a resolution.

The aid commitments come as a surprise from an administration that sees foreign aid less as a diplomatic tool and more as a wasteful budget item. The money going to Africa is much needed, as prolonged drought and conflicts in places like Somalia and South Sudan have destroyed livelihoods and put millions at risk of starvation. This will go some way to relieve the immediate needs on the ground, but it is unclear if further action will be taken to fix the underlying problems that led to the current situation. Climate change, an issue Trump has gone to drastic lengths to deride, is an underlying cause for both the historic drought and for conflict in the region; the two are often interconnected. And while $639 million is a large sum, it still represents a lessened commitment to tackling such issues compared to the previous administration. For comparison, Obama pledged over $3 billion for a global fund to tackle climate change issues in developing countries in his last G20 meeting.

The women’s entrepreneurship program was a similarly surprising move. Personally touted by Ivanka Trump herself, the fund has received over $325 million dollars in total, which will be used in projects aimed at boosting women’s entrepreneurship through training, improving access to capital and markets, and other technical assistance. Women’s entrepreneurship seems to be Ivanka’s pet project, having also secured $100 million from Arab countries for this purpose during Trump’s trip there in May.

Like the drought aid, this is a welcome gesture, but not much more given Trump’s record on women’s rights. After all, one of Trump’s first foreign policy actions as president was to reinstate a global gag rule on aid funding for health organizations that provide abortions, endangering the healthcare provision and reproductive care for millions of women in many low-income countries. The Trump administration is also hoping to slash millions of dollars from the budget of USAID, including funding for many women’s programs around the world. Despite Ivanka’s initiatives, no one will begin mistaking the Trump administration as a supporter of women’s empowerment, abroad or at home.

Climate Change, Trade, and Other Issues

Contrary to Trump’s belief (and admittedly the premise of this article so far) not everything about the G20 meeting centered on him. There was substantive progress accomplished by the other 19 countries, despite reports of vociferous obstruction from American diplomats. Efforts by other Western leaders, most notably the summit’s host, Angela Merkel, ensured progress, however.

Most notable was the reaffirmation of the Paris climate accords by all of the G20 nations except the US. After Trump pulled out of the agreement last month, there was some worry that other countries might also turn sour on it; particularly Saudi Arabia, Trump’s newfound ally, as well as by middl-income countries such as Turkey and Indonesia. In the end, the treaty’s support from the EU and China ensured all others fell in line.

The joint communique, a summary of what was agreed upon by all nations at the meeting, declared the Paris Accords “irreversible” and made sure to note the lone dissent of the US. The united front put forth by the 19 countries — despite their differences on so many other issues — not only gives renewed hope for global climate change policy moving forward but serves to underscore that Trump is on the wrong side of history in withdrawing from the accords.

Progress was also made on the trade front, with agreements for collaboration on creating freer but more equitable markets. Meanwhile, Trump, ever the protectionist, succeeded in adding language for dealing with steel overcapacity, after threatening to levy tariffs on steel imports.

Migration proved to be another tricky issue, with many leaders facing pressure to curb flows of migrants in their borders. Agreements were made to work on addressing the root causes of migrant displacement, providing for migrant rights and needs, and support for countries who take in migrants. However, a clause emphasizing “the sovereign right of states to manage and control their borders” as well as a prioritization of addressing the needs of migrants closest to their countries of origin, highlights the growing anxiety the migrant influx has created in many Western countries.

Other areas of collaboration included a launching of a partnership between the G20 and African nations, as well as commitments to fighting corruption, boosting employment, promoting sustainable development, strengthening health systems, and creating more resilient financial institutions. While it should be noted that the G20 agreements do not bind nations to act on these issues, they are still useful in setting a global agenda and shaming those who lag behind.

The Hamburg Protests

Outside the doors of the meeting, Germans expressed their opinions for Trump with massive protests that brought tens of thousands onto Hamburg’s streets and sent Hamburg police scrambling to maintain order. (First Lady Melania Trump was not pleased.)

Protests against the US or its President are not new. However, they are usually centered on a specific issue; for example, protests during President Bush’s visits abroad were usually centered on opposition to the Iraq War. These protests were different, not least because of the scope of the crowds that came out.

But the timing of the protests also sets them apart. Just six months into his presidency, Trump has not been in power long enough to actually enact many unpopular actions abroad. Indeed, this may be the first time that anti-US protests have occurred not in opposition to American policy, but in opposition to an American president as an individual. Contrast this with Obama’s trip to Germany around the same time in his presidency, and it is clear just how much the world’s opinion of the US has changed, simply with the presence of Trump in office.

This is troubling. For better or worse, the US has acted as the world’s global policeman and the main agenda setter for global policy. It seems this will increasingly not remain the case. The message the global community received from its first major foray with Trump was clear: the US is no longer to be trusted or counted upon to lead the world order.

The message the world sent back to the US is also clear: that their leader is not wanted or very much respected.

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Global Outlook // Donald Trump / Europe / Politics / World