Editor’s Note: Frida Ghitis, a former CNN producer and correspondent, is a world affairs columnist. She is a frequent opinion contributor to CNN and The Washington Post and a columnist for World Politics Review. The opinions expressed in this commentary are her own.
Every week is “interesting” – in the apocryphal Chinese curse sense of the word – when Donald Trump is President. But the past seven days left the world even more flabbergasted than almost any other in this mind-boggling presidency, as Trump strutted into the spotlight of world affairs, making grand pronouncements and sparking flames of fury at home, anxiety among US allies and glee among America’s foes.
Trump, of course, will declare victory on every front. But many of his actions this week left America diminished even if they made him stronger by satisfying his base.
Here are some of the ways Trump weakened America this week:
He attacked US allies and spoke up for Putin
It started before he left for the G7 meeting in Canada, when Trump declared that the exclusive group of advanced democracies should re-admit Russia, which was expelled for illegally annexing Ukraine’s Crimea. But that was just the beginning.
Trump put on a bizarre show at the summit, arriving late at meetings and leaving before the gathering ended. But it was after he left on Air Force One that he detonated a diplomatic Twitter grenade, ripping America away from its closest friends with a personal attack against Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and a slap against the entire group.
Trudeau had given a sedate press conference, repeating that Canada would respond to Trump’s imposition of tariffs against Canadian exports. Trump called him, “very dishonest & weak” and pulled the US out of the G7 communique.
With that, America’s closest friends received the message that the US is no longer a reliable friend and ally and escalated planning for a world without America’s friendship. Trump and his fans may delight in seeing him upset the powerful, but one day the US will need its allies. We’ll see then what is left of the decades of friendship.
After the summit, diplomatic sources revealed to Buzzfeed that at dinner with the G7 leaders, Trump said Crimea belongs to Russia because everyone who lives there speaks Russian. Trump’s continuing adoption of Putin’s views is raising eyebrows across the world. Belgium’s former prime minister tweeted a question for Trump, “Just tell us what Vladimir has on you. Maybe we can help.”
High praise for a dictator, no worries about atrocities
From Canada, Trump went to Singapore, to meet with the man that human rights groups and United Nations experts call one of the world’s most brutal despots.
Meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un in itself is not a failure since it is an alternative to the threat of military action that could wind up killing millions, but regardless of how the process unfolds, the President has already undercut American power.
For one, Trump could not praise the tyrant enough. He was “honored,” to meet Kim. “He’s got a great personality,” he gushed, adding, “He loves his people,” a remarkable conclusion about a man who cares above all about remaining in power, however many people he needs to kill and imprison.
When reporters asked Trump about Kim’s atrocities, he brushed them off as dandruff on a president’s shoulder. He’s a “tough guy,” he said, with visible admiration. “A lot of other people,” he said, have “done some really bad things.”
With that, Trump surrendered the moral high ground on world affairs, one of the sources of America’s strength. A country whose founding ideals of individual liberty and justice had in earlier days transfixed the world now officially, through the words of its President, disregards brutality as a trivial detail.
A win for China, anxiety for South Korea, and a weaker America
There’s a long way to go before we know if North Korea will surrender its nuclear weapons, and plenty of reason for skepticism. But already Trump has handed victories to all the wrong countries and injected anxiety among America’s allies.
Months ago, I wrote about what Trump should not do in talks. He did exactly what I warned against, much to the surprise and anguish of South Korea and the Pentagon. The master negotiator has already started giving away what North Korea – and China – wanted to see at the end of the process.
Trump canceled the annual military exercises with South Korea, calling them “provocative,” a word straight out of Kim’s vocabulary. The exercises are needed to maintain readiness against a regime that has repeatedly attacked the South. Russia had suggested that the US freeze the exercises. But when asked if Trump was following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s idea, a White House aide said, if anything, it came from China’s President Xi Jinping. That’s even worse.
In fact, the biggest winner so far – even if The Economist magazine’s cover cleverly declared that “Kim Jong Won” – is China. Trump already said he would like to remove US forces in South Korea. The sun is shining on China’s vision of East Asian hegemony: a weakened relationship between Washington and Seoul, a stable and wealthier North Korea, and America in retreat.
Trump has already made China stronger and the US weaker, with its allies in Asia pondering America’s commitment.
A trade war hits high gear
By the end of the week, Trump launched a trade war, erecting new tariffs against China. Instead of working through multilateral organizations, Trump unleashed a spiral of measures that could depress global economic growth and put Americans out of work.
A country that takes children from their parents, and whose President lies
At home, Trump’s favorite Cabinet punching bag, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, stepped up the grotesque practice of ripping migrant children from their parents’ arms and placing them in detention centers. As the news seeped out, Americans were horrified.
The conservative Rev. Franklin Graham called it “disgraceful.” Amid wrenching stories of despairing parents and distraught children, the world stared astonished as Sessions excused the unpardonable by quoting the same biblical passage used to justify slavery.
Trump lied, claiming the government is taking the children away because of a law written by Democrats. The truth is that it’s his Justice Department’s policy, easily reversed. But Trump is using the children as bargaining chips to secure funding for his border wall.
By tearing apart migrant families, Trump wrote another chapter in the book of America’s greatest misdeeds. And the world watched. Closely. Taking note of how under Trump, America, long a (flawed) champion of human rights, justice, and individual freedoms is becoming a cruel country.
America’s greatest strength, its appeal to universal values, was eroded even more.
Trump calls them all wins, because he wins. His base likes the toughness and swagger. But this week, America lost at every turn.