Burning cars were emitting clouds of black smoke in Hamburg while the G20 leaders were listening to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy before their final banquet. Throughout the summit, crowds of European anti-globalists were protesting in the streets. Over 15,000 policemen were convoked to protect the summit. As a result, some 213 policemen and several dozens of protesters were injured. This may well become the first one in the series of civil disobedience carnivals to be expectedly held in Europe and America against new deals to steal resources from poor nations. And this is the key result of the past summit.
The first question that comes into mind here is why do we need such summits? The first G20 summit was organized in 2008 as a platform for the global leaders to discuss anti-crisis solutions. As the global economy was falling into pieces, it was a good way for them to calm down their peoples. The crisis is over but economic imbalance is still there. At some time in future, the world may face one more crisis and the summit may come in handy again but now it is just a forum duplicating the decisions of other global institutions. In fact, the summit has no authority for solving global problems. Its goal is to shape prevailing global opinion. For this purpose, it needs a manipulator, the one who can guide the others. The problem of the Hamburg summit was that its host was Angela Merkel, who has no sufficient influence for playing the role of the G20 leader. Donald Trump has more capacities for being the leader but he preferred to keep aloof. Even in the last general photo, he is aloof. The “America First” principle does not mean that America’s leader should be amidst the crowd of those whom his people do not know and do not care for.
During the summit, Trump had contradictions with some G20 leaders concerning climate change and steel. But the U.S. president did not go beyond the bounds of decency. In Hamburg, he was not tough. The only extraordinary thing about the summit was that his daughter Ivanka substituted him at one of the sessions. Nor did Trump give any final press-conference.
Despite some differences, Trump’s visit to Europe has given him more points at home. Even his biggest critic, The New York Times, admitted this. The visit has given the Americans a clear picture of Trump’s philosophy. Once again, he appeared as a great orator.
During the summit, Trump confirmed his decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. He preferred continuing his talks with Putin to attending the climate debates. The irony of it is that Trump’s decision has put the United States on the same list with North Korea and Nicaragua, the only nations that have refused to sign the Paris Climate Agreement.
The Americans’ withdrawal will make the agreement less effective. No surprise that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that his country might refuse to ratify the agreement. Turkey is ready to meet the agreement’s requirements but as a developing rather than an industrialized economy, which means that it wants to get money from the special fund rather than to contribute money to it.
In the final statement on climate, the Americans expressed wish to help the other nations to more effectively use fossil fuels. Some experts see this as a way to justify the coal industry and its CO2 emissions.
As far as global free trade was concerned, Trump appeared with a protectionist approach. As a result, the final communique stresses the need for mutual non-discriminative deals. The G20 leaders are committed to fight protectionism and unfair trade but for this purpose, they are going to use “legal” instruments. This is their concession to Trump as this formula can be interpreted very differently.
Concerning refugees, the G20 leaders have just adopted a compromise agreement on combat with smuggling and human trafficking.
They have also confirmed their commitment to fight those financing terrorism and on-line radicals and to ensure air security.
So, with such a colorless agenda, the highlight of the summit was the meeting of presidents Trump and Putin. That meeting along with the street protests in Hamburg were in the headlines of the leading western mass media on those days.
Trump’s first meeting with Putin was expected to be the hardest part of his visit. But he managed that task. Before the meeting, experts from both sides said that any signal by Trump that the United States and Russia could set aside their contradictions and refresh their relations would be Putin’s victory. Trump made such a signal but the U.S. mass media took it as a pragmatic gesture. According to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, “the presidents rightly focused on how do we move forward from what may be simply an intractable disagreement at this point. The two leaders, I would say, connected very quickly. There was a very clear positive chemistry between the two.”
Trump said that it was a tremendous meeting. For Trump, all of his meetings with remarkable political figures are tremendous. He likes this word. BBC’s body language expert said that Trump was the winner of the meeting. A similar expert from Russia said that the winner was Putin.
The presidents talked for two hours and fifteen minutes instead of planned half an hour. All experts say that this is Putin’s success. More “realistic” commentators from the United States say that it would be a bad sign if half an hour proved to be enough.
As a result, the Russians report a breakthrough, while the Americans are carefully optimistic. The decisions passed during the meeting do look like progress. For the sake of long-term partnership in Syria, Putin has agreed to give the Americans and the British control over one of the security zones, namely, the one near the Jordanian border. So, we see that the division of Syria is underway and may evolve into either haggle or a new war.
The presidents have also agreed to send to Moscow a U.S. special representative for discussions on Ukraine. In order to disprove the rumors about Russia’s interference in the last presidential election in the United States, they have decided to set up a task force on cyber-security.
All those advocating pragmatic dialogue with Russia have welcomed the meeting and its decisions. Their opponents are skeptical but do not deny the need of such negotiations. They are mostly suspicious of Trump’s ability to negotiate but they are unanimous that the meeting was in line with Trump’s electoral promises. Trump has already broken some of his promises, like imposing tariffs on trade with China, cancelling the nuclear deal with Iran and building a wall on the Mexican border. In short, Trump is unreliable and unpredictable. As a result, everything he does is dubious and not serious.
Pessimists say that this is not the first ceasefire in Syria. The agreement on the south of Syria does not involve Israel, who keeps launching “preventive” attacks on the Bashar al Assad forces in the southwest of Syria. Regarding the contacts on Ukraine and the cyber-security, they say that Obama also advocated such contacts while a task force is not enough for solving the problem of hacking. No “sanctions” were mentioned during the meeting, which means that this problem was ignored.
Trump’s supporters have their own logic. Boston Herald’s columnist Adriana Cohen believes that the U.S. is strategically better off establishing a positive working relationship with the Kremlin than the alternative. “It’s certainly better than letting Russia, China, North Korea, Syria and Iran form a powerful alliance against the U.S.,” she says. “A scenario like that could easily spiral out of control. Our two nations are also jointly putting pressure on China to take decisive economic action against North Korea to defuse its rapidly advancing nuclear program. Democrats and liberal media should think twice before defaulting to the usual extreme partisanship, and instead should begin supporting what’s in America’s best interests. That means stop pressuring the Trump Administration to levy additional sanctions and other painful measures, which will only serve to alienate Putin and poison the diplomatic well. Voters should ask themselves this: If the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could famously attempt a ‘Russian reset,’ why can’t the Trump administration?” Cohen says.
Some experts were more balanced in commenting the first meeting of the U.S. and Russian presidents. According to Foreign Affairs, “the challenge facing the Trump administration is to skillfully manage, rather than permanently resolve, the tensions with Moscow.” So, we are dealing with a tension management policy, a pragmatic approach that can reconcile those objecting to the well-balanced line of the new U.S. administration and cool down some hot-brains in Washington.