But for each of those explanations, there is a counter-explanation. Consider the rationale for Trump’s response to Trudeau’s news conference. Macron’s office issued a statement that said “international cooperation can not be dictated by fits of anger and throwaway remarks.” In other words, this wasn’t merely a difference of opinion over policy. It was personal. When you factor in Trump’s preference to go it alone, the issue becomes even more complicated. U.S. allies, as I have written, have little choice but to go along with Trump’s seemingly erratic behavior. They have no other allies. Trump has made his own preferences clear, praising China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin while bizarrely seeking Russia’s inclusion in the G7, a grouping from which it was suspended following its invasion in 2014 of Ukraine’s Crimea.
At this point, given Trump’s proclivity to withdraw from every single Western-engineered global agreement, from the Paris climate change pact to the Iran nuclear deal and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, there’s little U.S. allies can do but to go along with it and issue the rare dissenting statements, like Macron’s or Trudeau’s, in the hopes that the administration might change in 2020 or 2024 and bring in a president who shares their values.
Trump’s view of U.S. alliances has been consistent from the start. U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s charitable notion that there is a “method to [Trump’s] … madness” appears to be marked by a clear absence of a method. Trump views America’s allies as freeloaders who have relied excessively on the United States for decades while treating it unfairly. While there may be something to this, with the U.S.-created global order under major strain and U.S.-Canada relations at perhaps their lowest point in modern times, Trump’s reaction to Trudeau undermines the idea that alliances are forged between democratic nations, not their leaders.
To be sure, the Europeans can impose retaliatory tariffs. But they too will suffer in the ensuing trade war. Ultimately, their concerns over unfair trade are directed more at China than America. In the long term, they’re likely to bet that Western values will keep the trans-Atlantic alliance together—Trump or no Trump.
For the moment, at least, Trump seems to want to distance himself from his allies—an impulse held somewhat in check by former aides like H.R. McMaster and Rex Tillerson. Indeed, the president has surrounded himself with advisers whose worldview reflects his own. John Bolton, the national-security adviser, tweeted perhaps the most iconic image of the G7 summit:
It was, as was pointed out, by Alberto Nardelli, the Europe editor for BuzzFeed News, a moment at which the leaders were discussing protectionism and support for multilateral trade. But Bolton cast the image in a different light. America, it appears, stands alone.