Donald Trump has a slightly odd way of going about world peace... He’s just spent the weekend turning all of America’s friends into enemies, writes Fergus Finlay
SO, ARE we going to witness history today? Is this one of those days that will change the world? In a week or so, will we all be clamouring to ensure that next year’s Nobel Peace Prize goes to Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un?
They’ll meet tonight, and according to himself Donald Trump will know within seconds whether or not Kim is the sort of man he can do business with. He has those instincts you know.
Years of building his own brand, of running a TV game show, of surviving multiple bankruptcies, have all taught him to read people like a book.
And he’ll be applying those unerring talents of his to one of the strangest leaders the world has ever known. In the interests, of course, of world peace.
He has a slightly odd way of going about world peace, of course. He’s just spent the weekend turning all of America’s friends into enemies, lashing out at some of his country’s oldest allies.
He left the G7 summit in tatters, withdrawing his signature from an even-handed and somewhat bland communique because he was offended by something Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau said.
It’s worth looking at the language of that communique for a moment — the language that caused him and his advisers no trouble at all until he got back on his plane. It’s a long document, covering issues like gender equality and women’s empowerment, among other things.
The seven leaders appear to have had no trouble signing up to commitments of greater equality, new forms of investment, fairer taxation and less tax avoidance. They also agreed on Iran, Russia and China — with apparently no dissent from Donald.
On the apparently vexatious issue of trade, it’s full of phrases like “free, fair, and mutually beneficial trade and investment, while creating reciprocal benefits, are key engines for growth and job creation”, and “We strive to reduce tariff barriers, non-tariff barriers and subsidies”.
None of this caused Trump any trouble until he began tweeting. “Why should I, as President of the United States, allow countries to continue to make Massive Trade Surpluses, as they have for decades, while our Farmers, Workers & Taxpayers have such a big and unfair price to pay? Not fair to the PEOPLE of America! $800 Billion Trade Deficit...”
And then a few minutes later – “Fair Trade is now to be called Fool Trade if it is not Reciprocal. According to a Canada release, they make almost 100 Billion Dollars in Trade with U.S. (guess they were bragging and got caught!) … Then Justin acts hurt when called out!”
A number of American commentators spent the weekend, not for the first time, worrying and wondering about their president’s mental health. It really is heard to understand how it’s possible for him to sign something one minute and go completely into reverse the next.
But at least with the G7 he’s dealing with people who are capable of taking a long view. They may well have decided that they have to just tough it out, put up with the temper tantrums and the ill-judged rantings, and try to work behind the scenes towards more rational outcomes.
Kim Jong Un appears, on the other hand, to be just as mercurial as the Trump.
In less than a year he has moved from calling him a dotard to apparently being willing to embrace him, and to offer up the denuclearisation of his country. Having spent years, and most of his ravaged country’s wealth, building up a nuclear arsenal, he seems to be willing to surrender all that to Donald Trump.
It doesn’t make sense. These things simply don’t happen that way.
We’re looking at a moment when a set of arrangements that has more or less stood the test of time since the end of the Second World War are under the most intense pressure — all caused by one man.
And that same man is promising us world peace as a consequence of his negotiating skills.
And yet, going into this summit, nobody knows what Kim wants, what Trump is prepared to give, where the balance of advantage lies, who can trust who. There’s never been anything quite like this before.
Ove the weekend, a Fox news presenter had to apologise when inadvertently describing the summit as a meeting “between two dictators”. And yet, that’s exactly what it feels like.
The picture that is emerging is of a president of America seemingly hell-bent on destroying a western, essentially democratic alliance.
And he’s using a lie to do it. According to The New York Times (quoting the World Bank) the average current tariff of the United States, Britain, Germany and France is identical.
Japan’s is 1.4%, and Canada’s 0.8%. (Looking at the same source, incidentally, Ireland’s is also 1.6%.)
The New York Times concludes that it’s impossible to sustain the argument that America is a victim of trade in any global sense.
And at the same time as the so-called Western alliance is being undermined, the same president is glorifying dictators around the world, and especially the effective dictator, Vladimir Putin.
Of course there is a case for arguing that the Western alliance has for most of its existence been an alliance of rich against poor, and that its language about equality has never been matched by action.
But when the most powerful man in the world decides that democrats are his enemies and dictators his friends, there are grounds for fear.
I’ve asked all sorts of people whose judgement I respect, and who understand American politics better than I do, how long this can last, and how much worse can it get. There’s no consensus that I can determine.
There are many who see Donald Trump as a blip — who believe that the checks and balances in the American system will get him in the end.
But there are others who think that the new isolationism of the US under Trump will become a self-perpetuating spiral.
HERE’S my prediction, for what it’s worth, of what will happen in the next few days.
The summit between the “two dictators” will be an unparalleled, historic, triumph — at least in the narrative broadcast by the White House and its friends.
Donald Trump will proclaim himself a hero of the world for bringing an end to one of the oldest conflicts in modern history.
We’ll be told that this was all achieved by the masterstrokes of timing and insight that are Trump’s exclusive gifts.
And nothing will change. North Korea will remain a dictatorship, its people downtrodden, its leader wallowing in self-glorification.
It will be as nothing to the self-glorification of Donald Trump.
But his actions in the past few days, whatever the outcome of the summit, have made the world a less stable, less fair, and slightly more dangerous place.
There is an old saying that you don’t need to make peace with your friends, only your enemies.
But the process of appeasing your enemies while at the same time alienating your friends is a new and unique approach. We don’t need to be grateful for Donald Trump the peacemaker.
We need to be more afraid of Donald Trump the wrecker.
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