July 7, 2017

7-7-2017 “The 5-Minute Fix” on the G20 Summit….(Washington Post)

 President Trump spent the latter half of the week in Europe at a meeting of 20 global leaders (G-20). Besides a stopover in authoritarian-leaning Poland, Trump didn’t really make friends. It’s to be determined whether he made any enemies. But he did make a whole lot of contradictions of himself, his policies and, in some cases, basic facts. Let’s sum up the week by running those down.

1) What he said: “Nobody knows for sure” whether the Russians meddled in the U.S. election, Trump said at a news conference while in Warsaw.

What he contradicted: The entire U.S. intelligence community. Leaders of top agencies have said it’s “a fact” that Russia tried to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Trump win. Russia hacked into Democrats’ emails and leaked embarrassing ones, flooded social media with fake news to confuse voters and tried to undermine their confidence in their voting system and democracy.

2) What he said: Actually, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said this to reporters of Trump’s first face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin: “He pressed him and then felt like at this point, how do we go forward?”

What he contradicted: The Trump administration seems to be straddling a line here: On the one hand is acknowledging that Putin ordered an unprecedented cyber campaign against U.S. democracy and doing something about it. On the other is Trump’s campaign promise to try to have a good relationship with Russia. Those two things are mutually exclusive, and Trump appears to be trying to have it both ways.

3) What he said: Or tweeted, really:

 What he contradicted: The facts.
    1. It fails the smell test spectacularly: Were leaders of the world’s 20 major economies really talking about this insider detail about Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, who was hacked by the Russians? Over climate change and trade?
  • The FBI requested the servers that the emails were on: Not the CIA, as far as we know.
  1. The FBI did say that the Democratic National Committee initially was reluctant to hand over its servers after they were hacked during the presidential election. But Podesta wouldn’t have had control over this decision: He was Clinton’s campaign manager, not manager of Democrats’ governing body.
  2. Okay, next.

4) What he said: “The United States has demonstrated not merely with words, but with its actions, that we stand firmly behind Article 5, the mutual defense commitment.” —  Trump in Warsaw, confirming the provision of the North American alliance that says an attack on one member is an attack at all. (The only time the provision was invoked was after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.)

What he contradicted: Himself. Kind of. Trump, a NATO skeptic, didn’t mention Article 5 on his previous trip to Europe in the spring. And European leaders are skeptical that what he said this time was what he meant. “We have been waiting for a long time to hear these words from President Trump,” European Council President Donald Tusk told reporters. “But the real question is whether it was a one-time incident or a new policy.”

5) What he said: The U.S. and Russia announced an agreement to set up a cease-fire in Syria’s civil war, where both countries back different sides. (Overgeneralization: Russia backs the Syrian government; the U.S., the rebels.)

What he contradicted: Tillerson actually contradicted the announcement by second-guessing whether it will last long. (Past cease-fire agreements under the Obama administration didn’t.)

One more contradiction. Get smart on the G-20 by learning about: Steel

I said earlier that Trump hasn’t made any enemies in Europe. Yet. One way to tell is whether he makes any big announcements about steel. File this as off-the-radar but incredibly important.

The what: Trump is considering putting restrictions on steel imports from the rest of the world, a protectionist move in line with his campaign promise to, well, protect manufacturers in the U.S. The U.S. steel industry supports this move.

The why: The diplomatic rationale is that Trump is worried that China has a leg up in the steel market by subsidizing its companies. But Trump needs a legal rationale, too, since you can’t just slap tariffs/import quotas willy-nilly on any good. He would likely claim it’s to protect national security. (Steel is used to make weapons.)

The problem: It’s not clear what effect this would have on China, since the U.S. already has some restrictions on Chinese steel. But this would probably raise prices at every level of the steel supply chain, including for consumers, economists say. And the biggest exporters of steel to the U.S. are some of the U.S.’s biggest allies: Canada, Brazil, South Korea, Mexico and Turkey. European leaders say they’re considering “retaliatory measures,” which is code for a potential trade war.

The too-long-didn’t-read version: As Trump is abroad trying to build relationships, he risks tearing them down by putting restrictions on steel imports.

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