Donald Trump is in Argentina for the G20 summit, spreading his brand of diplomacy, dodging Vladimir Putin, and putting Special Counsel Robert Mueller in his rearview mirror.
The leader of the free world is a busy guy.
Amidst bilateral sessions with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, German leader Angela Merkel, and host president, Argentina’s Mauricio Macri, the highlight of the event for Trump is the U.S./Mexico/Canada (USMCA) trade pact signing and a meeting of the full set of G20 countries.
The G20, comprised of 19 of the world’s highest developed nations, plus the European Union, represents a whopping two-thirds of the planet’s population and 85% of the world’s economic output. It’s a global juggernaut of posturing and preening on the world stage with expected worldwide peacekeeping outcomes.
The event has been chock full of egg-shell walking events, from French President Emmanuel Macron’s public spat with Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro over the Paris climate accord, to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman snubbing Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Yet, in an uncharacteristically lighthearted moment, bin Salman was caught in a collegial high five with Russian President Putin – a video that has gone viral.
Pushing Putin’s Buttons
Hours before landing in Argentina, Trump cancelled his meeting with Putin after Russian border guards seized three Ukrainian ships and their crews off the Crimean Peninsula. A spokesperson for the Russian president dismissively offered, “If this is so, the president [of Russia] will have a couple of additional hours on the program for useful meetings on the sidelines of the summit.” More time for high fives and frivolity, it seems.
The crisis in Crimean waters also caused beleaguered German Chancellor Angela Merkel to blame Mother Russia “entirely” for the incident, and she threatened to broach the issue with Putin, who appears nonplussed at best over the drama. But then, we are talking about Putin – not a warm and fuzzy guy.
Is NAFTA Toast?
In 1992, the mere mention of the then-proposed North American Free Trade Agreement brought tears of angst to the eyes of independent presidential candidate Ross Perot, who opined, “There will be a giant sucking sound going south.” Once Bill Clinton took office in January of 1993, the heavy breathing began in earnest. Throughout its 24-year legacy, NAFTA remains a controversial policy decision with ill effects for the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.
But upon arriving at the summit, Trump and his contemporaries, both North and South, signed a new and improved NAFTA 2.0, also known as USMCA. Somewhere, Ross Perot is sighing with relief.
Friendships and Foes
Trump and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison made nice, recommitting friendships, and throwing praise. As Trump observed, “I know you’ve done a fantastic job in a very short period of time, you’ve got a lot of things that they want over there, that’s why you’re sitting right here.” And in response, Morrison harmonized the sentiment by saying, “Australia and the United States have always been the greatest of friends, not just in strategic cooperation but economically and in people-to-people relationships. Well, there’s none better.”
One easy bromance down, one controversial relationship to come as eyes around the globe are laser-focused towards Saturday’s dinner meeting between Trump and President Xi Jinping of China, hypothesizing a potential tempestuous interchange on the ongoing tariff tiff.
Trump’s taxes have impacted $250 billion worth of Chinese goods since July, and they responded tit-for-tat by imposing duties on $110 billion of U.S. products. Perhaps the Summit will be an ideal mediation ground. China and the U.S. have both indicated consensus is on the horizon, but both superpowers admit differences remain to be ironed out.
One easy bromance down, one controversial relationship to come.
Of course, Putin decided to snipe at Trump after being dissed, and hurled a thinly veiled assault at the motto “America First,” calling the U.S. tariffs “unfair competition” and “vicious” protectionist measures. But Putin is not invited to personally advise the tariff talkers in the soon to be historic dinner conversation between Xi Jinping and The Donald – there’s progress to make.