TRUMP AT THE G7 SUMMIT
Alan E. Bernstein
On June 9, 2018, at the G7 conference outside Quebec, Canada, President Trump proposed that Russia be re-integrated into the group and, to support his suggestion, he made several false statements. David Herszenhorn, a reporter for Politico Europe, reminded him that “the invasion and annexation of Crimea” was one action that had got the Russians “kicked out of the G8.” In reply, President Trump said President Obama “was the one that let Crimea get away.” He added: “I may have had a much different attitude.” His predecessor’s inaction caused the problem, he claimed, and the situation should be rectified by the G7.
What the journalist alluded to was Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and infiltration of Luhansk and Donetsk, three eastern provinces of Ukraine. Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine had been a sovereign nation striving towards democracy. After the Russian aggression and contrary to Trump’s assertion, President Obama had indeed cooperated with the G7 countries in expelling Russia from what had been the G8. They made a joint declaration on March 2, 2014, and, beginning on March 6, 2014, Obama shaped a series of increasingly detailed sanctions. The President’s false charges of Obama’s inaction aside, Trump’s own behavior does indeed suggest “a much different attitude” towards Russia. From March-June, 2016, Donald Trump employed Paul Manafort as his presidential campaign chairman. Manafort had previously worked as a lobbyist for Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Moscow President of Ukraine who abandoned his office in February, 2014, and left the country instead of defending it as the Russians began their incursions into Ukraine’s eastern districts. Then, in mid-July, 2016, in the run up to the Republican National Convention, Trump’s people instructed the Party to remove from the platform the recommendation that the U. S. supply “lethal defensive weapons” for Ukraine to defend itself against Russia. It is Trump who is weak on Russia.
Furthermore, after it had become clear that the Russians had interfered in the presidential elections of 2016, the Senate proposed sanctions against Russia on June 14, 2017, and the House on July 22, 2017. Despite the bipartisan vote of two houses controlled by his own party, President Trump waited until March 15, 2018, before he endorsed the sanctions and then, in a greatly weakened form. This is the man who vowed to put “America First”!
The inaccuracy of the president’s statement in Canada would be serious enough simply for being sloppy and wrong. As a lie about Obama’s inaction, it acquires additional significance for three reasons. 1. It shows Trump’s exaggerated sense of his own importance, as if history awaits his action. 2. It further vents his personal hostility towards Barack Obama. 3. It shows the priority he gives his business interests in Russia. The animus towards Obama goes back at least to the false claim of his birth in Kenya (the “birther” lie) and possibly to resentment of Obama’s ill-advised tirade against Trump at the April 30, 2011, White House correspondents’ dinner. His business interests in Russia also have a long history, dating, at least, from the time of the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant held in Moscow. As the owner of the contest, Trump naturally met prominent Russians there. Then the idea of building a “Trump World Tower Moscow” came up. Although with no result, Trump pursued the project via a letter of intent dated October 13, 2015, and until the end of January, 2016.
Neither his pursuit of personal attention, his resentment of President Obama’s jokes, or his business ambitions should affect public policy or international relations. Yet these very factors sparked the twisted statement he made at the G7 conference. This means his emotions and his business interests have disrupted America’s international alliances and affected national security.
A tyrant is a sole ruler who governs not for the benefit of those who place their trust in him, but for his own profit. Arbitrary rule by one in that person’s emotional or financial self-interest is the essence of tyranny. We cannot change Donald Trump’s personality, but we can limit his power. Indeed, our constitution was intended to do precisely that. Let’s do it!