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Team Trump thinks fighting with Trudeau makes them look tough. It doesn’t.

And it will only hurt Trump ahead of the North Korea summit.

Trump’s advisers have argued that Trump’s spat with Justin Trudeau and the drama he stirred up at the G7 summit will make him long strong as he kicks off talks with Kim Jong Un.
Trump’s advisers have argued that Trump’s spat with Justin Trudeau and the drama he stirred up at the G7 summit will make him long strong as he kicks off talks with Kim Jong Un.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

President Donald Trump retracted US support for the G7 joint statement over the weekend to ensure that he looked strong ahead of his Tuesday summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, according to the president’s top economic adviser.

But that line of thinking could backfire. Rather than perceive the US president as powerful, North Korea could recoil from Trump’s scathing and unpredictable reaction to disagreements with his closest allies — and find it harder to come to an agreement with him.

National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday that Trump reversed course on the G7 (Group of Seven) statement after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to impose retaliatory tariffs against the US, in response to Trump’s new steel and aluminum tariffs.

“POTUS is not going to let a Canadian prime minister push him around,” Kudlow said. “He is not going to permit any show of weakness on the trip to negotiate with North Korea, nor should he.”

The G7 is a group of some of the most powerful industrialized nations of the world, including Germany, France, and Japan. At the end of its annual summit, the group traditionally issues a joint statement detailing the policy positions and initiatives they’ve agreed upon after days of discussion.

But this time, Trump was having none of it. Despite initially agreeing to back the joint statement, he decided to withdraw his support after Trudeau’s tariff announcement. “Based on Justin’s false statements at his news conference, and the fact that Canada is charging massive Tariffs to our U.S. farmers, workers and companies, I have instructed our U.S. Reps not to endorse the Communique,” Trump tweeted.

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro used even more inflammatory language, saying, “There’s a special place in hell for any foreign leader that engages in bad-faith diplomacy with President Donald J. Trump and then tries to stab him in the back on the way out the door.”

It’s clear that the White House is trying to paint Trump’s decision to renege on his commitment to the G7 as a power move that showcases his strength as a leader and a negotiator. But in reality, Trump broke with his closest allies over a move that Trudeau’s government had already signaled for more than a week and was, in fact, a completely unremarkable response to the US’s aggressive trade policy.

Canada didn’t do anything that wild

It appears that the main thing that Canada did to infuriate Trump was follow through on its promise to impose tariffs against the US in response to new US tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum.

“I have made it very clear to the president that it is not something we relish doing, but it is something that we absolutely will do,” Trudeau said at a press conference on Saturday. “As Canadians, we are polite, we’re reasonable, but also we will not be pushed around.”

Trump quickly blasted Trudeau for the move in insult-laden tweets. “PM Justin Trudeau of Canada acted so meek and mild during our @G7 meetings only to give a news conference after I left saying that, ‘US Tariffs were kind of insulting’ and he ‘will not be pushed around,’” Trump tweeted hours after Trudeau spoke. “Very dishonest & weak.”

The president also tweeted that he had instructed his officials to abandon support for the G7 statement because of Trudeau’s announcement.

It was a strange reaction because Canada had already signaled that it was going to retaliate against the US weeks before. It was also odd to frame Canada as the aggressor when Canada was, in fact, reacting to Trump’s aggressive move on tariffs. The Trump administration has justified taxing foreign steel from allies based on an obscure bit of trade law called Section 232 that argues that the US needs to produce steel and aluminum at home to protect its industrial base for national security purposes.

So not only is Trump hurting Canada’s steel and aluminum exports to the US, he’s also declaring Canada an untrustworthy ally in the process.

None of this bodes particularly well for Trump’s upcoming summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, because it depletes the most important form of currency in any negotiation: trust. If Trump can change his mind and generate so much rancor with a close ally, then how will he treat an adversary while navigating issues that are far, far more complicated?

North Korea carefully studies the way the US handles conflicts with other countries. Experts say that Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal in May — despite the fact that Iran was complying with the deal — likely made North Korea far more uneasy about striking a deal with the US.

Trump seems to think that changing his mind and theatrical gestures of anger in response to small slights makes him look tough — but instead, he looks petty and unreliable. That’s something that’s going to make any other country negotiating with the US extra cautious in the future.