The Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, was less than forty-eight hours away from hosting the biggest diplomatic gathering of his career when I spoke with one of his top advisers on Wednesday afternoon. Trudeau’s team was searching for strategies to salvage the annual G-7 summit with the American President, Donald Trump, and leaders of five of the world’s other large democratic economies—all of them close allies of the United States, and all of them furious with Trump. “Look, he personally decided he wanted to be fighting with everybody,” the Trudeau aide told me, referring to Trump. “Maybe he thinks it’s in his best interests to be combative and fighting.”
For close to a year and a half, Trudeau and his counterparts have employed various strategies to try to head off conflict with the volatile American President, from flattery to stonewalling to hours of schmoozing on the golf course. But in recent weeks Trump has confounded their efforts, unleashing a tit-for-tat trade war with allies, blowing up the Iran nuclear deal over European objections, and walking away from a deal with Canada and Mexico to overhaul NAFTA, all while lavishing praise on the North Korean dictator with whom he hopes to reach an accord next week. Adding insult to injury, Trump even cited an obscure national-security provision to justify the tariffs, as if America’s closest friends had suddenly become its biggest enemies. As a result, the G-7 meeting that Trudeau will host on Friday and Saturday was shaping up to be the most contentious, and possibly the most consequential, since the summits began, in 1975.
Trump’s chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, told the White House press corps on Wednesday that this was all just a “family quarrel,” but, if so, it’s one ugly fight. As Kudlow acknowledged the rift, Trudeau and France’s President, Emmanuel Macron, were meeting to plot strategy, and everyone was wondering why Trump, who is often described as averse to face-to-face conflict, had chosen the weeks preceding the annual G-7 summit to punch his allies in the face. In the days leading up to the meeting, Trump had tense phone calls with Trudeau, Britain’s Prime Minister, Theresa May, and Macron, who has been especially humiliated by the series of adverse decisions after flying to Washington to lobby Trump personally. All of them appear to fix blame on Trump himself. “We’ve gotten used to unorthodox behavior from your President,” the Trudeau adviser said.
For his part, Trump seems to relish the confrontation he has unleashed and is spoiling for more. [Continue reading…]