Trump's theatrics: G7 may become G6 temporarily

M Serajul Islam | Published: June 11, 2018 21:14:32 | Updated: June 14, 2018 21:13:21

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, surrounded by others G7 leaders, confronts President Donald Trump at the Montreal Summit of the grouping of the rich countries. Merkel posted this photograph on her Instagram page.      —Photo: Reuters  

Facts are stranger than fiction in international politics these days, thanks to the 45th President of the United States. In his most recent theatrical act, he has fought with the Heads of State/Government of the G7 countries in, of all the places, at their Summit in Montreal held on June 8-9, with the world in rapt attention. He left the Summit, unbelievably, without endorsing the Joint Communique on the issue of trade and worse, advocating instead Russia's reentry to the G7 forum from which it was expelled in 2014 over the annexation of Crimea.

Both acts of the President were bizarre.  US' leadership of the world is based to a major extent upon its leadership in the G7, the most powerful economic alliance in the world. And the President's advocacy for Russia has come when the Mueller Investigation is in progress full steam to unravel the Russian involvement in the last presidential election that shows the dangerous potentials of taking the President and many around him down although he is not yet the acknowledged focus of the investigation. The last thing that President Trump should have done leading to the G7 Summit was advocating the Russian case. A tweet coming from of an aide of the Russian President was all gaga with President Trump's advocacy of Moscow's case in the G7 Summit. The tweet said that with the US President advocating the Russian case, President Putin and his foreign policy team could now sit back and relax.

The excitement in Moscow notwithstanding, Russia's chances of entering the G7 is as remote as it was before the US President said that Russia should be taken back. He has advocated it at the cost of his country's interests in international politics where no doubt any loss of its importance is a gain for Russia. On behalf of the six G7 leaders minus the United States, Angela Merkel said, "We are in agreement that a return of Russia to the G7 cannot happen unless substantial progress is made in terms of the problems with Ukraine." The US President's advocacy of the Russian case not just caught the six G7 leaders in disbelief, it also caught his own aides in the White House by surprise as well who apparently were not aware that their boss would make such a statement.

That the US President would have a surprise card or two up his sleeve going to the G7 Summit was not entirely unexpected. He knew he would not have a reception committee waiting for him at the Summit having unilaterally decided to impose 25 per cent tariff on steel and 10 per cent on aluminum from Europe Union (EU), Canada and Mexico. In fact, the US President and the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the G7 Summit's host, had a showdown over the telephone just days before the Summit on the issue. The issue over which the two had the unpleasant exchange was interesting as it also exposed the ignorance from which the US President conducts his foreign policy apart from his weird ways of dealing with fellow world leaders and international issues. The Canadian Prime Minister wanted to know from President Trump how the US could impose the steep tariff on Canada on national security ground for that was the reason he had given for the tariff enhancement. The President responded with a question: "Didn't you guys burn down the White House?"

That was a historical error that President Donald Trump committed with his question that underlined the fact that he had no knowledge that the soldiers that came from Canada and burnt the White House in 1814 were the British soldiers because Canada then was a British colony. The British action was taken in retaliation for the crushing defeat that the Americans had imposed upon the British in York (Toronto) in Upper Canada. Therefore, the US President's anger should have been directed at the British and not the Canadians. President Trump did neither care about his ignorance nor the embarrassment it caused him and his country.

A CERTAIN METHOD IN TRUMP'S MADNESS: It does not appear that any of the US President's aides attempted to correct their boss' historical and embarrassing error. If they had, he perhaps would have reconsidered in not ending his participation at the Summit the way he did. He not only left the Summit earlier, he left it with an instruction to his aides to do something that none of his predecessors would have done even in a state of insanity. He left Montreal with the following statement for his aides on his Twitter: "Based on Justin's false statements at his news conference, and the fact that Canada is charging massive Tariffs to our U.S. farmers, workers and companies, I have instructed our U.S. Reps not to endorse the Communique as we look at Tariffs on automobiles flooding the U.S. Market!"

The US President, of course, did not clarify "the false statements" of the Canadian Prime Minister. He cared even less to establish the accusation that the Canadians are charging "massive tariffs" upon "US farmers, workers and companies" to justify his recent hikes in tariff against Canadian steel and aluminum. In isolation, these acts of the President of backing out from endorsing the G7 Joint Communique and advocating the Russian case, like most of his actions since becoming President, would appear senseless. Nevertheless, taken together, there is, as the cliché goes, a certain method in his madness. The Mueller investigation is pushing him into a very tight corner and unless he has his ways to run the US Government as he had run the Trump Empire, he could not just lose his presidency, his predicament could be far worse.

He is, therefore, attempting to establish a strange new power base for his presidency that even the worst dictators in history would not have dared to put forward. With Rudy Giuliani as his latest lawyer, the two are arguing that the Department of Justice, whose independence from the White House is at the heart of the rule of law in the United States, must henceforth work at the direction of the President like any other Department and uphold and protect his interests, whatever they may be. If the President gets his way with this strange and fatal argument, he will be able to run the US government the same way he had run the Trump Empire with a hiring and firing mindset that would make the US President no better or worse than the Russian President Putin who has no pretensions for himself or his country as a democratic one.

The US President, however, is interested in more immediate problems than pleasing the Russian President or following in his footsteps. He needs to establish the argument that the Ministry of Justice must work at his beckoning to dismiss the Mueller Investigation.  The net of the Muller Investigation is becoming dangerous for the President and he needs to stop it. He has thus set into motion yet another strange action with the presidential power of pardon; that he can free anybody, even those in jail for perjury. He has recently set free individuals in jail for perjury, for instance Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the Chief of Staff of Vice President Dick Chaney, to encourage those that Robert Muller is investigating to lie under oath, or commit perjury for him with the assurance that they would be pardoned if they are jailed for perjury. And to make it all utterly surreal, the President and his lawyer are also arguing that even if the President himself falls on the wrong side of the law, he could pardon even himself!

In effect, what the US President has set into motion is his desire to become what President Putin is in Russia - the power to govern the United States without being bothered by the restraints of the rule of law that has been established over hundreds of years as a result of the vision of the Founding Fathers and their Constitution. President Donald Trump must destroy these foundations and almost everything he has done since becoming the President has been to achieve that objective. The Mueller Investigation has created a compulsion for him to do this in a hurry. This explains the fight he has picked up with almost everybody except his base in the country and with his closest allies abroad except the likes of Putin and Kim Jong-un with whom he would meet in a Summit on July 12h. This also explains his unilateral tariff on US' traditional allies on grounds that have not been established.

The remaining six members of the G7 Group have tightened their group un-nerved by the theatrics of the US President leaving the United States to chart a course in a new world where its new allies would be Russia, North Korea and regimes that believe democracy is a hindrance. It is time to watch how mainstream America reacts to what President Donald Trump is trying to do to their country and the world. Meanwhile, President Putin and Russia must be thanking the stars for the Americans electing President Trump as their President.

Serajul Islam is a former Ambassador.

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