US leader cuts isolated figure on world stage

US President Donald Trump walks on stage after delivering a speech on the second day of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 8, 2017.
US President Donald Trump walks on stage after delivering a speech on the second day of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 8, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON • During a difficult visit to Europe, US President Donald Trump appeared out of sync with traditional allies, struggling to show that unorthodox strategies towards rival powers Russia and China can deliver results.

At one point in the Group of 20 (G-20) summit, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and German Chancellor Angela Merkel exchanged a knowing glance as the US President veered off on another tangent.

Throughout the meeting, there was a sense that Mr Trump had shifted positions, leaving everyone else struggling to correct.

In Warsaw, Poland, on the first stop of his four-day trip, he sought to reassert his claim to lead the free world.

The 71-year-old sounded the charge against terrorism and bureaucracy, which he painted as threats to Christian civilisation.

He embraced allies by affirming his commitment to Nato's mutual defence clause, satisfying longstanding demands to be clearer about the alliance.

But for many, Mr Trump's idea of the West as a group of nations that "cry out 'We want God' " - a West of high borders and fierce nationalism - seemed out of kilter with the times. "The great risk", said Mr Thomas Wright of the Brookings Institution, is that Mr Trump's remarks "begin dividing Europe into old and new - or those who don't like him and his message and those who do".

Mr Trump's claim to be the guardian of Western values was further undermined by a press conference that saw sustained attacks on the free press and a downplaying of Russia's election interference.

His efforts to reset relations with global rivals were equally vexed. During a historic meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, the US President effectively agreed to put Russia's 2016 election interference in the past - a major concession to Moscow.

But Mr Trump's twin concerns, Iran and Ukraine, were barely touched upon as the two agreed only on a Syrian ceasefire.

On North Korea, meetings between Mr Trump and the leaders of South Korea, Japan and China ended without a clear consensus on how to curb North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

Later at the G-20 in Hamburg, he appeared even more clearly outside the policy mainstream. The artful drafting of a joint communique saw world leaders banding together without the US: In the fight against climate change, it was 19 in favour and a lone Trump against.

The words "North Korea" are not in the final communique. This leaves Mr Trump, weakened at home by the swirling probes into his campaign, in danger of being undermined abroad as well, with a limited ability to rally world leaders to his most important causes, experts said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 10, 2017, with the headline 'US leader cuts isolated figure on world stage'. Print Edition | Subscribe