Trump has shown a mix of disdain and disregard for the G-7 throughout his presidency. The past two times he attended a G-7 summit as president, he behaved badly and created more controversy than comity. Trump doesn’t prepare for the meetings and gets bored while in them. Rather than showing the strength of U.S. alliances, the meetings invariably devolve into cringe-worthy displays of how frayed the alliances have become under this president. Let’s spare the world and ourselves from one that Trump is actually supposed to preside over.
The new delay that Trump announced in Monday’s news conference is actually his second delay. The U.S.-hosted G-7 summit was originally scheduled for late June. But in May, foreign leaders wouldn’t confirm their attendance because of the coronavirus pandemic, so Trump announced he was pushing it to September, bashing the event as he did so.
“I’m postponing it because I don’t feel as a G-7 it probably represents what’s going on in the world,” Trump said May 30. “It’s a very outdated group of countries.”
The tentative date for the reschedule was the first week of September. Several administration officials told me that, as of yesterday, no firm plans had been set and there seemed to be “no movement” on the summit preparations, despite it being less than a month away.
Diplomatic sources told me the leaders of France and Germany had already informed the White House that they would not attend in person because of the pandemic. In addition to the G-7, four other countries were invited: Australia, Brazil, India and South Korea. As of yesterday, those governments had no idea whether the event was going to be held in person, over video teleconference or not at all.
Seemingly, the only reason Trump commented Monday was because a reporter posed the question to him directly. Rather than acknowledge the lack of confirmed attendees or the lack of firm planning, he said he was “much more inclined” to postpone it until at least November.
“We could do it through teleconference, or we could do it through a meeting,” Trump said. “But I am now suggesting, I told my people yesterday actually, why don’t we do it sometime after the election when things are a little bit … you have a little more time to think about it?”
Trump initially said, “we haven’t sent out invitations,” then added, “we have invited a number of people to the meeting.” (The second answer is true.) Trump said he “would invite” Russian President Vladimir Putin to the meeting, because “he’s an important factor.” (Putin has not yet been invited, officials said.) Trump then said a delay until after the elections is preferable because, “it’s just a better, calmer atmosphere to have a G-7.”
A constructive G-7 meeting with other large democracies could be immensely valuable in coordinating the international response to the coronavirus pandemic and devising economic strategies for the aftermath. But the G-7 couldn’t even agree on a statement about the pandemic in March, in part because the U.S. side insisted on calling it the “Wuhan virus.”
Trump’s horrendous behavior at previous G-7 meetings gives no confidence that this one would show any positive results. At the 2018 G-7 summit in Charlevoix, Canada, Trump bickered with the other leaders in the meeting. Then, on the plane ride from the summit, he withdrew U.S. endorsement of the joint statement via tweet, because he didn’t like what Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said about him on television, calling Trudeau “very dishonest and weak.”
At the 2019 G-7 summit in Biarritz, France, Trump created havoc in the media and in the markets by “ordering” U.S. companies to leave China on his way to France, then saying he was having “second thoughts” and then saying the trade talks were going great, creating three news cycles of controversy for no reason.
“Trump was wildly unenthusiastic about attending yet another G-7 after the fun at Charlevoix in 2018, and several times told me and others he would arrive late and leave early,” former national security adviser John Bolton wrote in his book “The Room Where It Happened.” “Trump was so uninterested in the G-7 it was hard for [Larry] Kudlow and me to schedule a briefing for him.”
Trump is right — holding the G-7 in the United States before the election is useless. If he loses, Trump will be a lame duck. If he wins, Trump will have new leverage and a new mandate to pursue the international policies he prefers. A G-7 summit now would be at best awkward and sparsely attended. At worst, it would be another embarrassment and highlight the weakness, not the strength, of the Western system.