There’s a big difference between an enigmatic caginess in diplomatic trade negotiations and mixed signals generated by blundering incompetence.
Donald Trump is decidedly leaning towards the latter of these two approaches.
This morning at the G-7 summit of world leaders in Biarritz, France, Trump first appeared to waver in his confidence that his escalation of the trade war with China was in his — and incidentally the United State’s — best interests.
During a breakfast with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, reporters asked Trump whether he was having any “second thoughts” about the tariff conflict with America’s largest trading partner.
“Yeah, sure. Why not. Might as well,” the president said. “Might as well. I have second thoughts about everything.”
Trump then went on to say that talks with China were proceeding splendidly and that he would soon withdraw his recent threat to force American companies to leave China.
As heads began to spin at the sudden and unexpected reversal from an American president who refuses to ever admit that any of his own actions or thoughts might be wrong out of fear of appearing weak, White House aides accompanying Trump began their campaign to walk back his remarks.
“The president was asked if he had ‘any second thought on escalating the trade war with China.’ His answer has been greatly misinterpreted. President Trump responded in the affirmative — because he regrets not raising the tariffs higher,” White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said.
White House aide Stephen Miller speaking now during a Fox News interview in Biarritz.
Says the only second thoughts Trump was having was whether to be even tougher with China on new tariffs. pic.twitter.com/yfatVqgska
— Josh Wingrove (@josh_wingrove) August 25, 2019
Regrets over not making a bigger mistake? Now that’s projecting strength!
The Washington Post quoted former Obama Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers on the string of mixed messages issued by the erratic president recently on everything from trade policy to gun regulations.
“Deeply misguided policy and strategy has been joined for some time by dubious negotiating tactics, with promises not kept and threats not carried out on a regular basis,” Summers said in an interview with the newspaper. “We are at a new stage now with very erratic presidential behavior and frequent denials of obvious reality. I know of no U.S. historical precedent.”
The delve into uncharted territory includes an apparent separate reality being perceived by Trump and the other world leaders as they recounted their versions of the private talks taking place at the summit.
Trump insists that he never discussed a joint approach with the other G-7 members to dealing with Iran, while French government representatives were equally adamant that an agreement had been reached among all of the leaders on Saturday night.
Having been previously critical of French efforts at Iranian diplomacy, Trump said:
“I haven’t discussed that. We will do our own outreach, but I can’t stop people from talking. If they want to talk, they can talk.”
Trump also clashed with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who was forced to correct Trump in his ever-so polite Japanese way when claimed to reporters that North Korea had not violated any rules with their recent spate of missile launches,
We’re in the world of missiles, folks, whether you like it or not,” Trump said, adding “I’m not happy about it” before bizarrely continuing to praise the country’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un.
At least Trump was aware enough to acknowledge that he understands how Prime Minister Abe might feel differently, given that Japan is well within the range of the missiles tested by North Korea.
The president also prevaricated about foreign leaders supposedly privately agreeing with his desire to reinstate Russia into the G-7 organization, returning it to being the G-8. When pressed for details on who exactly had caved-in to his demands, Trump refused to provide them.
“I could, but I don’t believe that’s necessary,” he said.
European leaders have been steadfast in their opposition to inviting Vladimir Putin and his retinue to the meetings after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine and reportedly argued strenuously with Trump about over dinner on Saturday evening.
Trump’s lies about the reception of his ideas by foreign leaders were perfectly exemplified by an exchange during his Sunday morning breakfast with the British Prime Minister right after the president claimed that none of his foreign counterparts had objected to his approach to his trade war.
Just moments later, Prime Minister Johnson did just that to Trump’s face right in front of reporters.
“Just to register the faint, sheeplike note of our view on the trade war,” the British prime minister contradicted Trump in the gentlest way possible, “we’re in favor of trade peace on the whole … We think that, on the whole, the U.K. has profited massively in the last 200 years from free trade.”
With the next G-7 meeting scheduled to be held in the United States, Trump told reporters this morning that it was “certainly possible” that he would invite Putin to attend next yar’s event when the U.S. controls the guest list.
It would not be a surprising move considering that at the previous evening’s dinner, Trump reportedly continued to bash former President Barack Obama over the choice to ban Russia from the group after its invasion of Crimea — repeating his contention that Putin had been ostracized only because he outsmarted Obama, according to anonymous officials who attended the event.
Trump’s attempt at portraying his alternate reality of both the current and future G-7 summits and the state of the world hasn’t convinced any of the other world leaders to abandon the objective reality that they and the rest of the world outside the Trump orbit perceive.
Any suggestion that anything but the president’s own opinions about the content or of the success or failure of the meetings — which will end without the usual joint communique of common understanding and goals — will be dismissed by Trump as just more “Fake News” from the media he loves to hate, as he began his disinformation campaign on Twitter this morning.
….bad Economic times, the worse the better, anything to make my Election more difficult to win. Well, we are having very good meetings, the Leaders are getting along very well, and our Country, economically, is doing great – the talk of the world!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 25, 2019
Such False and Inaccurate reporting thus far on the G-7. The Fake News knows this but they can’t help themselves! Leaving now to have breakfast with Boris J.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 25, 2019
Donald J. Trump is living in his own private Idaho. If you want to know what really happened at the G-7 summit yesterday, the other world leaders may be the best place to get your information.
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Original reporting by Damian Paletta, Josh Dawsey, Toluse Olorunnipa, and Michael Birnbaum at The Washington Post.
Vinnie Longobardo is a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music and art.