U.S. President Donald Trump made a… let’s call it a splash, at the G7 summit in Canada June 9. The G7 comprises the seven largest industrialized democracies – the United States, Canada, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Italy – who also form the core of the entire American alliance network. Their leaders and finance ministers meet regularly to discuss challenges to the global order. Normally, the G7 is a bit of a lovefest with leaders agreeing to push this bit of financial stability or that bit of poverty reduction.
This time was different. The Trump administration is busy belittling and/or wrecking parts of the international order, and a mere week before the summit the United States levied steel and aluminum tariffs on nearly all the G7 members themselves. As such the summit was preceded and followed by quite aggressive statements out of most of the G7 members, most notably from Canada and France, about how American tariffs would not be allowed to stand in specific and a general dissatisfaction with the position of the White House on global affairs in general.
In essence, ahead of the summit the G7 leaders were showing concern that Trump’s rhetoric wasn’t simply rhetoric. And in the summit’s aftermath the emotion could best be summed up as defiant despair that Trump really, truly, means what he says.
I can see why they’re all pretty bummed.
The Americans created, supported, subsidized, and maintained the global order since the end of World War II. Under that order the industrialized world in general and the other G7 countries in specific have done very
well for themselves, rebuilding after the war’s devastation in an environment of absolute physical security.
Maintaining a global order is far from “normal” when viewed from the long stretch of American history. In fact, it has only been the dominant strain since the end of World War II. Before that the United States had other foreign policy themes that competed for top billing.
- In the post-revolutionary era it was all about standing up to the established European empires, with former imperial master Britain in general triggering a near-dehabilitating mix of obsessive paranoia and narcissistic fear.
- The competing ideology back then was that the United States should be one of those imperial powers.
Theme1 nudged the Americans into the War of 1812, and led the Americans to encourage the independence of the European’s imperial colonies throughout the Western Hemisphere. Theme2 birthed the Monroe Doctrine and set the Americans on their own pseudo-colonial drives.
But as the world – and America – changed, American foreign policy changed with it. The American Civil War and Reconstruction removed all appetite and bandwidth for meaningful foreign policy, triggering a shift to hard isolationism. Once the Americans finally had their (second) coming out party with the Spanish-American War in the 1890s, isolation gave way to a mercantile-driven dollar diplomacy where the Americans would fence off swathes of the world in a corporate-driven foreign policy designed to maximize American economic penetration. The Depression and World War I convinced Americans the world was no fun at all; isolationism came back into vogue.