Trump wins, US loses
Some weeks are more interesting than others but few could match the week gone by with Donald Trump as the US President. Indeed, the past seven days left the world even more flabbergasted than any other in this mind-boggling Presidency, as Trump made grand pronouncements, sparked flames of fury at home, anxiety among US allies and glee among America's foes. Trump, of course, declared victory on every front. But many of his actions left America diminished. He attacked US allies even as he spoke up for Vladimir Putin. It started before he left for the G7 meeting in Canada when Trump declared that the G7 should re-admit Russia, which was expelled for illegally annexing Ukraine's Crimea. Trump put on a bizarre show at the summit, arriving late at meetings and leaving before the gathering ended. But, it was after he left on Air Force One that he detonated a diplomatic Twitter grenade, ripping America away from its closest friends with a personal attack against Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and a slap against the entire group. Trudeau had given a sedate press conference, repeating that Canada would respond to Trump's imposition of tariffs against Canadian exports. Trump called him, "very dishonest & weak" and pulled the US out of the G7 communique.
With that, America's closest friends received the message that the US is no longer a reliable friend and ally and escalated planning for a world without America's friendship. From Canada, Trump went to Singapore, to meet with the man that human rights groups and United Nations experts call one of the world's most brutal despots. Meeting with North Korea's Kim Jong-un in itself is not a failure since it is an alternative to the threat of military action that could wind up killing millions. But, regardless of how the process unfolds, the President has already undercut American power. For one, Trump could not praise the tyrant enough. He was "honoured" to meet Kim."He's got a great personality," he gushed, adding, "He loves his people," a remarkable conclusion about a man who cares above all about remaining in power, however many people he needs to kill and imprison. Trump surrendered the moral high ground on world affairs, one of the sources of America's strength. A country whose founding ideals of individual liberty and justice had, in earlier days, transfixed the world, now, officially, through the words of its President, disregards brutality as a trivial detail. There's a long way to go before we know if North Korea will surrender its nuclear weapons and there is plenty of reason for skepticism. But, Trump has already handed victories to all the wrong countries and injected anxiety among America's allies. The "master negotiator" has already started giving away what North Korea and China wanted to see. Trump cancelled the annual military exercises with South Korea, calling them "provocative" – a word straight out of Kim's vocabulary. The exercises are needed to maintain readiness against a regime that has repeatedly attacked the South. Russia had suggested that the US freeze the exercises. But when asked if Trump was following Russian President Vladimir Putin's idea, a White House aide said, if anything, it came from China's President Xi Jinping. That's even worse. In fact, the biggest winner so far is China. The sun is shining on China's vision of East Asian hegemony: a weakened relationship between Washington and Seoul, a stable and wealthier North Korea, and America in retreat. Trump has already made China stronger and the US weaker, with its allies in Asia pondering over America's commitment. By the end of the week, Trump launched a trade war, erecting new tariffs against China. Instead of working through multilateral organisations, Trump unleashed a spiral of measures that could depress global economic growth and put Americans out of work. At home, Trump's favourite Cabinet punching bag, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, stepped up the grotesque practice of ripping migrant children from their parents' arms and placing them in detention centres. As the news seeped out, Americans were horrified. Trump lied, claiming the government is taking the children away because of a law written by the Democrats. The truth is that it's his Justice Department's policy, easily reversed. But Trump is using the children as bargaining chips to secure funding for his border wall. America's greatest strength, its appeal to universal values, was eroded even more. Trump calls them all wins, because he "wins". But this week, America lost at every turn.