Does photo released by Germany’s Chancellor show a bold president standing up for U.S. interests, or a petulant outsider betraying America’s strongest allies and being scolded by a powerful woman leader? It all depends on your perspective.
By Miriam Raftery
Photo by Jesco Denzel, posted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel via Instagram
June 12, 2018 (Berlin) – Hours after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced at a news conference that leaders of all seven nations at the G-7 summit signed a communique agreeing on a broad range of economic and foreign policy goals, a statement affirmed other allied leaders, President Donald Trump sent tweets aboard Air Force One blasting apart the reputed deal. Trump accused Trudeau of “false statements” and said he has instructed Congress “not to endorse the Communique.”
Further frustrating allies, Trump also called for Russia to be readmitted to the G-7. Russia was kicked out for its backing of the Crimean invasion, a violating of international law, the New York Times reports.
Trump blasted Canada for charging tariffs on goods in retaliation for tariffs that Trump himself recently imposed on Canadian imports, and faulted Germany for “flooding” the U.S. market with German automobiles, escalating a trade war that many economic experts have warned could destabilize the global economy.
The President has said tariffs are needed to protect American manufacturers and jobs. But those savings may be offset by loss of other U.S. jobs and manufacturers unable to export and sell their goods outside the U.S. due to retaliatory tariffs, adding complexity to the process.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel posted a photo on Instagram blandly labeled “spontaneous meeting between two working sessions.” CNN reports that a senior diplomat says the photo revealed a tense moment in trade negotiations.
The photo, taken by Jesco Denzel with lighting and composition reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting, promptly went viral—prompting mostly ridicule and some praise around the world.
Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton forwarded the photo on Twitter with this comment: Just another #G7 where other countries expect America will always be their bank. The President made it clear today, No more.”
Meanwhile world leaders and diplomats voiced shock and disgust at Trump’s quixotic turn-around.
Norbert Rőttgen, foreign affairs committee chair in Germany’s Bundestag, or Parliament, stated condescendingly, “The president acted and reacted in the childish way he could be expected to,” the Washington Post reports.
Merkel called Trump’s withdrawal via Tweet “sobering” and “depressing.”
“Francois Heisbourg, former French presidential national security advisor, asked, “How is it possible to work this way if once you have agreed to something, two hours later the guy decides he doesn’t agree with what he agreed with?”
The blow-up marked a stark decline in U.S. relations with allies in the G-7 nations (Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Canada Japan and the U.S.) that collectively control 62 percent of the world's wealth.
German newspaper Die Welt posted the photo calling it the “moment that broke the West.” China’s People’s Daily mocked Trump by posting the image along with a summit photo of China’s leader walking in unity with other world leaders.
On social media, the photo became a target of Photoshop efforts and attempts to caption the image. Some portrayed Trump as a toddler in a time-out. One altered image put Trump in a high chair with a spilled bowl of spaghetti on his head. Another poster suggested that Merkel must be asking Trump what Russian premier Vladimir Putin held over him.
One world leader, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, did come to Trump’s defense—not on his purported breaking of the communique pact, but on his suggestion to readmit Russia to the G-7. On Twitter, Conte said readmitting Russia would “be in the interests of everybody.”
Conte’s praise promptly drew condemnation in the Italian media, with one leftist paper accusing Trump of building an “anti-Allied axis” with Trump, the Washington Post reports.
Italy, it may be recalled, fought against the U.S. and its Allies and alongside Russia and Hitler during World War II.
Trump’s defense of Putin further baffled allies already troubled by allegations of Putin meddling in U.S. elections and Trump taking Russia’s side on various international matters, as well as special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Trump campaign team collusion with Russia, an allegation Trump has vigorously denied despite indictments of multiple members of his campaign team and cabinet.
While to date the President himself has not been formally accused of any crime, the indictments against his team members are serious, including conspiracy against the U.S., but the President has not denounced their actions. Most recently, Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani admitted that Trump lied to media when he denied writing a memo sent to the press in which Trump denied any knowledge of the meeting among his top campaign advisors and Russians promising dirt on Trump’s opponent Hillary Clinton.
Whether Trump’s actions toward our European and Canadian Allies were appalling or admirable depends on one’s perspective, or as the Atlantic writer An Xiao Mina observed, the debate over the photo is reminiscent of the famous blue/gold dress where different viewers saw different colors, or the Yanny/Laural audio in which different people heard different words, depending on frequencies their ears could pick up.
In the case of geopolitical fraying among the U.S. and our closest allies, however, the stakes of what’s really behind the photo are far higher than in the amusing but frivolous controversies over a dress color or audible perceptions of a word.