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Russell Wangersky: When you can’t trust your partner

U.S. President Donald Trump
U.S. President Donald Trump - Submitted

Peter Beyer is not a name that probably leapt out at you from all the coverage of the G7 summit in Charlevoix, Que., this past weekend.

No, instead of Beyer, you probably think of this past weekend in terms of U.S. President Donald Trump’s airborne Twitter-spasm, where he waited until he was safely on his plane before attacking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as “weak” and “dishonest” and threatening new tariffs in a burgeoning trade war between the U.S., Canada and the European Union.

But Beyer, who is the German government’s co-ordinator of Transatlantic Co-operation, had probably the best take on what the summit debacle actually demonstrates.

Beyer is a former German politician, elected to the Bundestag in 2009, where he served on the Committee on Parliamentary Affairs. Appointed to his new position in April, it took mere days before he was describing dealing with evolving and eroding American policy positions as “very demanding.”

But what he said after the G7 summit, buried far down in a New York Times story on the fuss, is probably the best take-home message about a U.S. administration that seems to set its policy goals based solely on the personal feelings of its thin-skinned Commander in Chief.

“It started out as a good summit because we were actually talking to each other, instead of past each other,” Beyer said.

But that changed quickly: “It looks like the U.S. is no longer a reliable partner in international agreements, and that’s bad.”

That should be the entire takeaway from this past weekend: our neighbours to the south can no longer be counted on to acted reasonably, thoughtfully, or even honestly. That may play well in the cheap seats of Trump’s personal fandom, but for people in this country, it means a critical rethinking about who we want to do business with, at least in the immediate future.

For the rest of the world, and especially for Canada, that can’t happen fast enough. The U.S. is a huge market, but the simple fact is that investment and trade depends on at least a modicum of constancy.

If you’re going to expand to sell your product into the United States, you have to be able to trust that the ground rules won’t change because a president gets his nose out of joint about how he feels he was treated. If you want to buy product from the States to sell here, you have some comfort that the latest snit won’t bring retaliatory tariffs that price your product out of the market.

Trump’s building a wall, all right; instead of bricks and mortar on his southern border, it’s a tariff wall against everyone else.

You can claim — as some apparently still do — that Trump is playing some kind of super-cerebral 3-D chess game. Or you can take the position of the former White House official, who said following a Trump decision to pardon Dinesh D’Souza (who pleaded guilty to campaign finance fraud) that it’s not “the sort of three-dimensional chess people ascribe to decisions like this. More often than not he’s just eating the pieces.”

There’s plenty more than can be said. You can be as offensive as Robert De Niro, announcing
“F--k Trump” on stage at the Tony awards, or as mild as Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, suggesting that Trumpian personal attacks aren’t useful or appropriate.

Whether you like Trump, hate him, or couldn’t care less about him, one thing’s certain.

Peter Beyer is right.

As long as Trump is in office, America is not a reliable partner.

He may claim to know the art of the deal.

But if all deals are one outraged presidential tweet away from meaningless, why bother?

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 39 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at — Twitter: @wangersky.

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