Hamburg taught the world that the U.S. no longer matters

The G20 summit showed that the new Trump administration’s “America First” foreign policy actually means “America Alone”

U.S. President Donald Trump waits for the beginning of the first working session on the first day of the G-20 summit in Hamburg, northern Germany, Friday, July 7, 2017. The leaders of the group of 20 meet July 7 and 8. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

U.S. President Donald Trump waits for the beginning of the first working session on the first day of the G-20 summit in Hamburg, northern Germany, Friday, July 7, 2017. The leaders of the group of 20 meet July 7 and 8. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Summits are rarely noteworthy. That’s not to say we don’t take note. There are always hundreds of journalists, and every speech and communiqué is widely reported around the world.

But typically, the real substance of these meetings was worked out long ago, in email exchanges between diplomats and bureaucrats and in the occasional high-level meeting. The host nation scripts out every minute, all the official statements are agreed to in advance, and the press and participants know exactly what will happen and what will be announced before any of them even arrive.

And, on the surface, the same thing could be said of the G20 summit in Hamburg that concluded this weekend. We knew Trump would probably not agree to a communiqué supporting climate change action and we knew the rest of the gathered nations would not agree to water it down.

Nonetheless, it was still a remarkable moment when, in the very last minutes of the summit, it was revealed that 19 countries had signed the statement and the United States, alone, refused. In the world of diplomacy, this sort of impasse is incredibly rare and almost always avoided.

READ MORE: Donald Trump is making America consider what greatness really means

A year in advance, when the host nation begins to prepare for the event, they invariably choose a theme that the other countries will support. Diplomats shuttle back and forth to identify “announceables” everyone can agree upon. At bilateral leader meetings or ministerial summits, the details are further honed so there are no surprises, so all the participating delegations sing from the same song sheet.

Usually, the summit is only considered a success if any dissent is kept discreetly behind closed doors and not even hinted at in public. Even a seemingly innocuous statement such as “The Prime Minister and the President had a frank and open exchange….” is considered to be a sign that things went badly off the rails.

So, even though we knew it was coming, the fact that the United States stood alone in Hamburg, isolated from both its allies and rivals, is significant. It showed that the new Trump administration’s “America First” foreign policy actually means “America Alone”. And it reinforced the increasingly widely held belief that the decline of the United States is accelerating.

Decline, of course, is a relative term. By most major indicators, the United States is doing better now than it was a year ago. Employment is up, the stock market is doing well, and yet another new iPhone is only months away. Almost all of the long-term trends which have made America one of the healthiest, most successful nations on Earth, show no signs of abating.

READ MORE: Time for a Donald Trump intervention?

But in terms of global power, the United States has far less influence now than it did a year ago. In fact, one could argue that Washington’s ability to promote American interests has not been this handicapped since the 1920s.

President Obama presided over a nation that seemed unwilling to assert itself against the rising influence of countries like China and Russia. Cosmopolitan soft power was preferred to traditional hard power. Secretaries Clinton and Kerry spent more time nudging and cajoling, then they did leading. Red lines were abandoned.

There is no question that by the end of Obama’s second term, the relative power balance between Washington and Moscow, Brussels, and Beijing had shifted. The United States was still the most influential nation in the world, but it was not as dominant as it had once been.

Under President Trump, in only six short months, that dominance has all but collapsed. Even mid-sized countries like France and Canada are running circles around Washington. And when the most important countries in the world gathered in Hamburg, no one really cared if Washington was going to play ball or not. The world has already moved on.

In fact, it is quite likely that the summit participants would have been willing to expend more diplomatic capital to ensure Italy was on board than they would’ve have spent on the U.S. Why? Because from Putin to Merkel everyone knows the President of the United States either doesn’t know what he is talking about, can’t deliver on what he promises, or is quite likely lying anyway. And that is indeed a noteworthy and historical milestone in world history.



Hamburg taught the world that the U.S. no longer matters

  1. One thing is for sure. We will soon learn if isolation will be good for the US economy as Trump predicts or whether it will be bad for the US as all the economists suggest. If global trade and global agreements are as important as everyone suggests then it would be in the global interest of sanctioning the US. Tariffs on pollution would be a start. This is a far cry from sanctioning China for its support of N Korea. We are witnessing the overtaking of the US as the most important country in the world.

    • Was thinking the same thing. Trump’s administration is a huge guinea pig to see if isolationist policies work or not. However it may not be so simple an experiment. Trump may not really go the pure isolationist route. He may simply use the threat of isolationism to bend current trade agreements to be more favourable to the US, and because of the size of the US market, other countries may be willing to oblige him part of the way. It may be tricky to untangle cause and effect in the final analysis.

      • Every country wants to trade with the U.S. (Canada would be reduced to rubble if it didn’t). Trump will have his way with all of them but with fairer trade deals.

        • So The US will use its market power to extract more favourable terms for the US. Presumably, Trump is going to slap duties on things until others come round – like soft wood lumber, for example. So US consumers get to spend more for stuff to prop up US industry. This sounds like a bunch of leftie thinking to me. Jeremy Corbyn would be proud to call such policies his own.

          • You struck the nail on the head. Conservatives passed the Free Trade bill. Conservatives believe in an open market and promote free enterprise. Parties like the NDP promote protectionism. Thus, Trump is not a conservative despite his supposed representation of the Repulicans, America’s Conservative party. Someone forgot to remind him and the Republicans what the concepts they promote, an open market and small government actually look like.

      • It would be interesting to see the guinea pig test if he were actually pursuing an isolationist economic policy. I don’t see a lot of evidence of that.

        He’s certainly isolationist in terms of a fondness to piss off other leaders and refuse to cooperate with them, but aside from the Paris Agreement the US hasn’t pulled out of any international agreements. Radical changes are happening to internal economic structures in the US that will have major effects, but externally every trade deal that was in place at his swearing in is still in effect.

        He’s basically performing belligerent isolation on a grand scale, while actually changing very little (externally). From the perspective of policy assessment, this makes success or failure pretty hard to judge.

    • Fake News – He didn’t say that.

  2. Yeah, Obama was the transitional president to let the Americans down the ladder slowly.

    But against Bush and Donald….he had a hard time of it…..and now here they are, at the bottom

    • It was Obama who led them down the sewer. A recent Harvard study showed that Obama’s only real legacy was amassing an unprecedented level of debt. Amazing how the U.S. (in spite of interference by the thumb sucking liberal losers) is doing far better economically under Trump than it was with the recent empty suit..

  3. This article makes it sound as if the G20 actually matters. The sun may or may not be setting on US dominance, but the G20 is irrelevant either way.

    • The G20 is about economics….and economics always matters.

      • And Komarade E1 who is Canada’s Biggest Trading Partner, if the USA goes so do we…

        • LOL not a chance.

      • The economy doesn’t work better because leaders get together and talk about it. Grow up. The world has more “experts” studying economics than ever before. And more international organizations and political summits to discuss economics than ever before. They produce nothing of value, and the economy performs no better than it did 50 years ago. It’s theatre for the gullible like yourself.

        • ??? Is that what you think they do?

          Gawd you’re dumb.

          • On the contrary Emily-it is you who are dumb on this matter as well as most others.

          • You’re the one who said the summit was about economics. Have you changed your mind already? It usually takes a few posts before you contradict yourself. You’re slipping.

          • Yup, trade, refugees, climate change, diseases, new developments……it’s all economics.

  4. HAHAHA…”Even mid-sized countries like France and Canada are running circles around Washington. And when the most important countries in the world gathered in Hamburg, no one really cared if Washington was going to play ball or not. The world has already moved on.”” Ya Right , hahahaha, moved on????? or have been LOST ALREADY to ISLAM,,,give me a break…you are insane, Macleans magazine, so full of shit, drag your head out of the sand and look around at whats REALLY going on in the world

    • Oh wow…what’s REALLY going on?

      Did I miss a plot?

  5. So they had always planned the outcome of the G20 in advance and were shocked when Trump had other ideas.

    I believe that was why Trump was elected.

    • Absolutely right!!

    • Lol, did you or Jerome even READ the article? No where does it say they were shocked about Trump not playing ball. Here’s a direct quote from the article:

      “We knew Trump would probably not agree to a communiqué supporting climate change action and we knew the rest of the gathered nations would not agree to water it down.”

      The point is that the rest of the world doesn’t care if Trump agrees or not, and would rather spend their resources trying to convince countries like Italy to agree rather than the US, “Because from Putin to Merkel everyone knows the President of the United States either doesn’t know what he is talking about, can’t deliver on what he promises, or is quite likely lying anyway.” Hence supporting the writer’s claim that US influence on world politics is declining as a direct result of Trump.

      • Man made global warming is all about economic transfer from the U.S. to Europe. Europe has been trying to find a way to slow down U.S. growth and transfer it to Europe since the second world war and this is there latest tool. CO2 emissions in the U.S. are the lowest since the Eisenhower administration. With all of the fracking in the U.S. the oil industry has created a glut of natural gas which torpedoed the price and made it uneconomic to burn coal. So even if you believe that man causes global warming, the U.S. has done it’s bit without harming itself economically. Of course, if you believe in man made global warming, you’d have to explain to me how we’ve gone through five ice ages before man discovered fire. And, as shown in the link below, why the other planets are warming. Don’t believe there are many SUVs on Jupiter! So Trump’s position on man made climate change is quite justifiable. The Paris Climate Accord was completely voluntary with no real targets and no penalties. China, the biggest CO2 emitter, gets a free pass until 2030 and will increase their coal burning by 19%!

        • Again, did you even READ my response before answering? No where did I mention anything about the validity of the Paris Accord or American CO2 emissions or anything else you kind of rambled on about.
          I was simply pointing out that the other world leaders weren’t shocked about Trump’s position or ideas in the least, unlike what Robmisek had posted. And that they didn’t really care, which supported the author’s statement that the USA is losing its influence in global affairs.

          • I was just pointing out that Trump was the smartest man in the room in dumping the Paris Accord. The author is wrong in the statement YOU QUOTED. Trump knows exactly what hes talking about. You should read over what you post before you post it!

      • The article stated”A year in advance, when the host nation begins to prepare for the event, they invariably choose a theme that the other countries will support.”

        Apparently, unlike you and me, they didn’t expect Tromp to win only 8 months ago.

        • A few other countries have gone through elections in the past 12 months (such as France and Britain) as well. I doubt after the last G20 they sat down and try to deduce who would win each election, then try to guess what positions the winners would take on different topics, before choosing climate change.
          And I don’t know if the other nations were expecting a Trump win or not, but they DID pick a theme that was supported by 19 out of the 20 nations involved. Again, this just supports the author’s opinion that the US is no longer an important player in global politics and world events.

  6. “Because from Putin to Merkel everyone knows the President of the United States either doesn’t know what he is talking about, can’t deliver on what he promises, or is quite likely lying anyway.”I’d say that’s the biggest “you say” I’ve ever heard.
    The United States long before Trump was the most hated in the world because of it’s demonstrated hegemony and arrogance. There are many Europeans that I personally know who are delighted that the U.S. President views himself as the head of the U.S. rather than the head of the world. Those that don’t like this changed U.S. role is because they now have to spend money to defend themselves rather than rely on the U.S.

    • LOL all you high-school drop-outs can go to bed now…’ve babbled enough nonsense

      • Another defensive comment by Emily. Her comments reinforce that she didn’t finish the 8th grade.

        • LOL well Jerome, you’d know about dropping out of the 8th grade.

          • I saw your report card.

    • Perhaps you would like to explain the logic of Trump’s attacking Germans because of the they export more to the USA than import from the USA. That is a socialist, protectionist argument. Are you a socialist, Jerome because you are supporting the policies of a socialist. Do you want a government that punishes you for buying BMW’s instead of Fords? If you do, vote NDP because that is the party spouting those kinds of policies. Free market policies…those of Conservatives, promote healthy competition because it is best for the consumer. If USA corporations want to thrive, they should produce better products, not restrict what USA consumers purchase through penalties.

      • Germany runs a trade surplus with most countries because Germans are prolific savers and they detest buying consumer goods on credit. They therefore don’t need to import as much, and also have more capital available to invest in productive capacity, which leads to more exports. Trump is the biggest idiot in the history of politics. What else is there to explain?

        However, I completely understand why Trump got elected. People are so sick of leaders who don’t represent them they are willing to bite off their nose to spite their face. Even the nutjob Michael Moore said as much. “Trump was the Molotov cocktail voters finally got to throw at the establishment.” First time in my life I ever agreed with him. And the self-satisfied elites still haven’t figured that out. Nassim Taleb describes today’s political/bureaucrat/academic/political class as the IYI crowd – Intellectual Yet Idiot. The best description yet of who is running things in pretty much every western nation outside of Switzerland and perhaps Germany. Until that changes, I expect more Trumps, and not just in the US.

        • Mud Baller- Well put. Great Canadian example of IYI- Stephane Dion.
          The problem with saying the US doesn’t matter ignores certain realities. If the US chose to withhold its lion’s share of funding from the UN, would it still not matter? Will the USA not matter when the someone looks at the tab for all the climate change schemes, built around sticking the US with the bill, and realizes they don’t have someone to hand it off to?
          Will the USA still not matter if it decides to withdraw from NATO, after being about the only signatory beyond Great Britain that has actually lived up to to the terms of the treaty, while most of the other members never have?
          Here’s a bonus question: Who would you rather have as the big kid on the world’s block, USA or China? Who would you rater be the most influential player? China, who managed to slaughter scores of millions of her own people in the course of some 70 years, and has not made a single positive contribution to humanity in that same time frame, or the USA, whose positive contributions to human kind for the same time period- in any given decade- overshadow what many people’s have ever contributed?
          If you have to think about that, yer a muthafuggin’ moe-ron.

        • Thank you Mud Baller for the explanation. Trump is an idiot when it comes to economics. I agree with you regarding your assessment of why he was elected, however, voters are in denial when it comes to admitting the part they play in the health of the economy. Retail shopping is a good example. Consumers who expect protectionism should look at their buying habits. Are they actually costing their economy jobs by their insistence on purchasing cheap foreign products either online or through big box stores such as Walmart. If we continue on this course, there will be no local businesses and no competition. Far more jobs have been lost in the USA retail sector than any other one and that is a direct result of the buying habits of consumers.

      • Gage,
        Trump is not against trade, he just wants deals that are balanced and today they sure aren’t and that is to the disadvantage of the U.S. Canada is a prime example in both our shenanigans with softwood lumber and our dairy industry. The Federal government sells lumber to Canadian wood producers from Crown Land BELOW MARKET PRICE. That makes their U.S. counterparts uncompetitive. You think that’s a fair deal for the U.S.? That’s why it’s number one on Trump’s list. And Trump is playing our surfer dude P.M. like a fiddle-saying what a wonderful man Trudeau is. That will strongly appeal to Trudeau’s narcissism and he’ll be like puttie in Trump’s hands when they sort this one out.

        • Jerome, if what you say about soft wood lumber is true then why has Canada won every time the issue has gone to arbitration? I agree that the supply management of dairy is not good business because it is the worst kind of protectionism and it has caused great issues for Canadian governments who have tried to obtain further free trade agreements. More protectionism is not the answer. Scrapping NAFTA will not only damage USA consumers but will cost over 20 million jobs. If you truly believe the USA doesn’t practice protectionism in its trade with Canada, you should do some research into that government’s meddling in the beef industry and a strong American lobby group called RCALF.

          • Actually, the hullabaloo over softwood lumber was probably aimed more at getting Canada to make an honest attempt at living up to our NATO and North American defense commitments. What do you think was behind the Liberal’s much-hyped statement of the future of defense?

          • Bill, I am not sure about Trump’s reasoning behind threatening NAFTA but then Obama and Hiliary Clinton also threatened to ditch the agreement and the softwood lumber has been a contention with several USA governments even though Canada has always won in arbitration. As for defense spending plans and the Liberals, I believe this plan is an attempt to buy time because they don’t have the money in the budget nor the strong desire to pay the agreed amount into NATO. Long term spending promises aren’t worth the oxygen the Prime Minister uses up in announcing them because future governments are not bound in any way to honour them.

          • What I say about lumber and dairy is quite true. For lumber Canada uses a NAFTA loophole that says for a subsidy to be wrong it must apply to a specific industry. Canada argues that our lumber goes to a number of industries. It’s that loophole Trump will fix.
            Trump is big time for trade-he just wants it to be fair and the only two things on his radar screen are our softwood lumber and dairy supply management. Re the beef issue, the Canadian gripe there is that we have to label that it’s from Canada which the Canadian beef farmers believe creates a bias not to by by Americans. Trump will give in on that one.

          • Jerome, how can you be so sure about what the POTUS will do when the POTUS continually flip-flops on what should be done?

        • “Balanced trade” is what every protectionist whoever lived claims to want. The US is running a trade deficit because American consumers are far too consumerist for their own good. Want a better trade balance? They need to tighten their belts and learn to reject consumer debt and actually save some money. The same advice applies to Canadians. The Germans have figured this out. What is stopping us from doing the same? Addiction to shopping, to Amazon, to HGTV and to our credit cards, that’s what. The answer to a stronger economy is not strong arming trading partners. It’s getting your own house in order.

          • Mud Baller, your comment on consumerism reminds me of two licence plates I saw. One said “He who dies with the most toys wins” and the other was “He who dies with the most toys still dies.” North Americans are trying to buy their way to happiness. Mental illness prevalence stats would indicate that it isn’t working.

          • There is more to the German model than the saving habits of individuals. State structure and internal policy incorporates or resembles most of Bernie Sanders’ key platform points.

            Anyone endorsing the German model should speak to this part as well, as I can’t imagine much support for it here.

        • I agree Canada is hardly the free trader it pretends to be. Dairy and poultry marketing boards and insanely low stumpage fees for lumber companies (an artificial subsidy as well as an environmentally destructive policy) prove that much.

  7. Honestly Gilmore, your America hate has gone into a feverish haze. There are only 3 countries that
    matter; The U.S. , Russia and China. If the U.S. does not matter as you say then God help Canada.

  8. You are dreaming if you think the US no longer matters. The biggest economy in the world. The most influential country, culture & military in the world. The most sought after lifestyle & immigrant destination. The biggest contributor to world charities, emergencies & disasters. Need I go on. The Paris Climate Accord is a bad deal, even if you believe in man made climate change. It’s largely wealth redistribution with virtually no imposition of CO2 limits on two of the biggest emitters, India & especially China who despite their public statements, have no intention of reigning in their emissions. Why would countries like Canada & the US pay millions of dollars to China for “carbon credits” only to move more manufacturing jobs to China, buy more manufactured goods from China, further crippling our own manufacturing sector? Meanwhile, China grows its economy, continues to emit emissions, destroys it’s own environment, & abuses it’s labour force, all unhindered? And, why would first world western countries pay money to third world despotic ruthless dictators who can’t manage their own countries’ economies, helping them further their war like grip on their own people?

  9. Of course Trump’s America First means America alone. His win/lose strategy
    to make America great means America wins and everyone else loses. Not exactly a brilliant leadership move! I am not surprised as Trump is going to do everything he can to hang on to his core electoral support no matter what. So a continued political win for Trump is first and foremost. To do this he garnered just barely 25% of the eligible voters and 23% of the popular vote. America is in greater decline more then ever before with Trump supported by voters who don’t care and don’t understand.

  10. What was Trump not doing that Obama did? So he looked a little out of place – except for a grin Obama never accomplished much as these things – some of his biggies (like the Paris Agreement), or free trade deals with the EU, didn’t fly back at home. And as for looking miserable – a couple of bad afternoons with Putin made Mr. Obama lose all hope.

    And look Putin’s shaking hands with a new American President – what’s that, number 5?

  11. Hamburg taught the world that Europe may be closer to a civil insurrection than the Russians are supposed to be.

  12. If the US doesn’t matter anymore, why are like 80% of your articles about it?

  13. Articles written like this always befuddle me with their lack of specifics. “More time cajoling…than leading”. What the hell does that even mean? Be specific. What “leadership” in the modern world does NOT involve cutting deals sitting around a table? Are you saying that all “leadership” is military attacks? The next sentence seems to imply that, with the oddly-pluralized “red lines” reference to not bombing Damascus. (Was their ANOTHER red line? Why the plural? Be specific!)

    Leadership, FYI, can also include such things as being the safe guarantor of a deal between two smaller countries that don’t trust each other. America puts its (mostly commercial) weight behind telling both that the terms of the deal will be enforced, that neither will be cheated, so both do the deal, everybody profits, America gets a cut. If America does a lot of stuff like that, makes everybody a lot of money in a safer marketplace, her stock rises and America profits more than anybody.

    But noo, you sell more magazines with tough talk about how any nation reluctant to spill blood is not a leader. It makes me tired.