As far as the Associated Press is concerned, the biggest question in Osaka this week for the G-20 summit is whether President Trump’s beleaguered staffers can keep their boss away from his worst instincts.
A tropical cyclone headed toward Japan could turn into a typhoon in coming days, “a possible metaphor for the four days of high-stakes diplomacy that lie ahead,” wrote Zeke Miller and Jonathan Lemire of the Associated Press in “In Japan, Trump begins talks on trade, Iran, North Korea.”
His dinner the night before the summit with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was “warm” and “a friendly opening act before the impending gauntlet of negotiations on international crises, trade wars and a growing global to-do list.”
The agenda for his four days in Japan “is as laden with hazards for the president as it is light on the ceremonial pomp that marked his recent state visits to Japan and the United Kingdom,” Miller and Lemire wrote. “But White House officials are playing down prospects of specific accomplishments in what is the president’s third international trip in a month, even as Trump himself said of his ‘competitors’ from other nations: ‘That’s OK. We’re doing great. We’re doing better than any of them.’”
Lemire and Miller wrote that this week “was set up to deliver a remarkable split-screen dynamic in American politics: While Trump is in Asia, the Democrats vying to replace him next year are holding their first primary debates” – implying the two news events carry equal weight.
They worried that Trump’s list of sit-down meetings includes Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Recep Erdogan and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, “all of whom have authoritarian tendencies, as well as disquieted allies including Germany’s Angela Merkel and more contented ones such as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe,” offered plenty of opportunities for mischief.
The summit gives the other world leaders opportunities to put Trump in his place, Mille and Lemire wrote. It “will be a test of both Trump’s go-it-alone style as well as his ‘America First’ doctrine that has frustrated traditional allies over disputes on defense spending and trade and set the United States apart from global consensus on how to deal with international concerns like climate change and Iran’s nuclear program.”
And given the president “has shown little patience for the subtleties of global interactions and whose administration has struggled to grapple with simultaneous challenges,” it could be tough when he is “asked to articulate his strategy for containing Iran to skeptical world leaders after pulling the U.S. from the deal last year.”
Lemire and Miller worry what Trump might get into during his visit with Putin. It will be the first time they’ve been face to face since the Mueller investigation ended without finding that Trump’s campaign conspired with Russia and, in fact, the first since the July 2018 meeting in Helsinki when “Trump declined to side with U.S. intelligence agencies over Putin on the question of election interference, leading to an uproar at home and abroad.”
The story says Trump’s aides “have grown worried that Trump may use the meeting to once again attack the Mueller probe, particularly since the special counsel now has a date to testify before Congress next month.” There is no sourcing for that statement nor an explanation of why that would be worrisome.
Adding to the worries is that the president already seems agitated, according to the Associated Press.
“On the eve of the trip, Trump showed a willingness to deliver broadsides at American allies, questioning the fairness of a mutual defense treaty with Japan, a bedrock of the two nations’ alliance, while also tweeting a complaint about the tariffs India has placed on U.S. goods.”