The past few days brought a reminder, at the Group of 7 summit in France, that in the age of Donald Trump we are all distracted by what radio engineers call a low signal-to-noise ratio. There is so much trivial static, that it is difficult to detect the significant, unfolding trends that could make us rich or poor, healthy or polluted, and contented or furious.
A diplomatic breakthrough with Iran could be near. Clearly something is going on with China, as the tariffs war almost certainly has to come to a head. In addition, at the G-7, Trump claimed that Kim Jong Un “sees the tremendous potential” in North Korea if he gives up his nuclear weapons.
The issues were all there in the Mediterranean resort of Biarritz, but three days of yes-and-no, on-again off-again verbiage from the leader of the world’s biggest economy masked whatever progress was being accomplished.
Trump hinted that negotiations with China might soon resume and dropped his dubiously legal “orders” to American corporations to begin exiting from that country. Reporters asked him about mixed signals, and the president uttered a mock apology: “Sorry! It’s the way I negotiate.”
His style is erratic and unashamedly disruptive, and for better or worse it looks like America’s top allies are being worn down. At least in public, they are not bothering to fight back on every unorthodox point he might raise.
In fact, this G-7 summit went relatively smoothly compared with 2017’s edition in Italy and last year’s meeting in Canada, which devolved into a Group of 6 vs. Trump. America’s president, if not quite statesmanlike, made an effort to seem friendlier. He even kissed Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel on both cheeks.
The French host, President Emmanuel Macron, was wise enough not even to try to hammer out a final group declaration. Although everyone noticed the empty chair at Monday’s hour devoted to climate change – one of Trump’s least favorite topics – he at least managed to sidestep acrimony by claiming that he had fully intended to attend. Perhaps his staff lost track of time, six time zones from home.
Macron tried to pull off a Trump-like made-for-TV moment by impulsively inviting Iran’s foreign minister to drop in. The American president kept his cool and simply said he had been informed by Macron beforehand but felt “it’s too soon” for him to see a senior Iranian official.
After Trump claimed that China has been exploiting the World Trade Organization and thus “stealing” trillions of dollars from America, Macron said the entire G-7 agreed to work on changing WTO rules. Trump glumly opined that he is not satisfied by the proposed reforms. It seemed to be yet another step in his methodology of wearing down both friends and foes.
This weekend Trump will fly back to Europe, as he was invited to Warsaw, where he loves to talk about a huge crowd that cheered him in 2017. This Sunday marks 80 years since the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany that started World War II.
Trump is enjoying every chance to get away from Washington and what he considers a braying herd of unfair critics. He does, however, like to pick and choose his destinations. After Warsaw, he was supposed to visit Copenhagen, but when Denmark’s leaders ridiculed his desire to buy Greenland, Trump was insulted and cancelled that leg of his trip. So far, at least, he failed to wear down the Danes.
Dan Raviv is senior Washington correspondent for i24News.