Quebec City (AFP) – Donald Trump came to the G7 summit Friday as an outcast among allies — arriving last, leaving first and loving every minute of the fight.
It sounds bad — a US president lobbing Twitter barbs at America’s oldest allies before meeting them for what was meant to be a cozy familial retreat on the banks of Canada’s glittering Saint Lawrence River.
Even weeks before the G7 summit in Charlevoix, Trump had seemed more at ease, and more interested, in another summit — the one in Singapore on June 12 with his onetime nemesis, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.
In the days before his departure, he groused about his allies’ unfair trade practices and seemed to bristle at the return fire from some ostensible friends.
In the hours before he boarded Air Force One, Trump seemed to be relishing the idea of a punching match more and more.
He called out the Canadian and French leaders by name, railing against “massive trade tariffs” that are “killing” American farms and threatening to “more than match” them.
There was even a call for Russia to be readmitted to the G7, with Trump pointedly saying “they” had thrown Moscow out of the club in the first place even though it was a decision reached by all the members — including the US.
Until the last moment, White House officials nervously joked that they could not be sure Trump would even get on the plane to Canada.
After all, the 71-year-old, not known for this thick skin, has a habit of cancelling events that promise to be unpalatable.
Earlier this year, he pulled out of a summit with Latin American leaders at the last minute, purportedly to deal with air strikes against Syria, but it was no secret he was unhappy at the prospect of facing criticism and protests.
Just this week, he canceled a White House visit by the NFL champion Philadelphia Eagles because embarrassingly few players wanted to go.
– Sighs of relief –
Hours before his arrival, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders announced that Trump would be leaving the summit early.
So when Trump left the White House on Friday morning and boarded Marine One — late — there was a palpable sense of relief among staff who worried about offending America’s closest allies.
Still, despite the barbs against “indignant” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the White House flirting with cancelling a bilateral meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, not everyone in the White House was worried about harming relationships that have shaped the world for the better part of a century.
“The president campaigned on standing up for American workers and against unfair trade deals that ship our jobs and wealth overseas,” said Marc Lotter, a former aide to Vice President Mike Pence.
This is a fight that some in the White House — including the president — are perfectly happy to have, one that paints the president as a champion of America.
Few of Trump’s supporters will lose sleep about the ensuing diplomatic demolition derby.
“The president, and I believe Americans in general, support free trade, but it needs to be reciprocal,” said Lotter.
“They don’t like that despite what we call ‘free trade’, Canada levies a 270 percent tariff on US dairy and the EU charges four times the tariff on US cars going to Europe than the US charges on cars coming here.
“People see the president’s leadership on the issue is correct and working.”
None of this will be good news to foreign diplomats in Washington, who have long worried about anti-Trump sentiment turning into anti-American sentiment and doing permanent damage.
Still, Trudeau, Macron or any of the other G7 leaders may look on the bright side too — they are likely to lose any votes at home by confronting a deeply unpopular US president.