Trump made US a joke at G20. World leaders should keep treating it as such after The Don’s gone
Donald Trump’s lack of input at the G20 summit made it easy to ignore him. While Joe Biden will play more of a role globally, the rest of the world should not look to him for leadership given the turmoil America is in at present.
The 2020 G20 Riyadh summit took place over the weekend with participating nations discussing greater cooperation in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, the global economic recovery, climate change and debt relief for poorer countries. Expectations had been low, as the world has so far fallen short on a common response to the once-in-a-century global threat – a dual public health and economic disaster.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) issued a report before this summit, warning the G20 that an uncoordinated response to managing the disaster will cost approximately two-thirds more than a joint approach – obviously something of great concern to every nation in the world. The scars, the IMF reasoned, will undoubtedly be deep as infections in most parts of the world rise yet again, prompting new restrictions and lockdowns in some cases.
As successful vaccine candidates emerge, failing to take advantage of a collective response on vaccine rollout will no doubt cause the pandemic to linger for at least several months – potentially even years – longer than it would have otherwise. It will deepen inequality as richer nations elbow poorer nations out of vaccine access. But, of course, as the World Health Organization (WHO) has repeated, everybody cannot be safe until everyone is safe – and this holds true for the economy.
“A sustainable economic recovery cannot be achieved anywhere unless we defeat the pandemic everywhere,” IMF head Kristalina Georgieva wrote on Thursday, adding: “We can build the impetus for growth, jobs, and address climate change, far more effectively if we work together.”
The United States has often been the nation looked to for leadership in navigating uncertain times, but the current outgoing administration of President Donald Trump has fallen flat and failed to meet these important challenges.
Going back to November 2008, US Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama – one outgoing Republican and one Democrat – both took the lead on three of these summits that took place in under a year.
But Trump committed to attending this summit less than 24 hours before it was slated to begin and, while expectations were already low for his contributions, he dropped the ball on delivering any unifying message and apparently ditched a pandemic preparedness session to play golf.
Bizarrely, while world leaders talked about key issues of global importance, Trump was off topic by touting the accomplishments of his administration and insinuating that he’ll still be at the table after Joe Biden’s scheduled inauguration on January 20. “It’s been a great honor to work with you, and I look forward to working with you again for a long time,” Trump said in his speech.
Perhaps the most important thing to note in this historical juxtaposition is the fact that Bush, a person with the pedigree to wield the office of the presidency, handed off the baton to Obama’s team in a smooth and seamless transition, giving him the basic tools to be successful during the largest financial crisis since the Great Depression. Trump, however, is refusing to allow Biden, someone who has the know-how to lead in world affairs having already served as vice president, this privilege.
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The obvious message to those on the inside and outside is that Trump is totally uncommitted to dealing with the issue of Covid, one he has downplayed from the very start as over a quarter of a million of his citizens have died from the virus. Indeed, he is actually hampering future efforts. Because of this, world leaders are counting the days until January 20 when Biden, who will seek a more multilateral and engaged approach to world affairs, comes to the helm and attempts to untie some of these knots.
Former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd and former Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono wrote in an op-ed for the South China Morning Post published on Saturday, “But after four years of the not-so-subtle degradation of the multilateral order under US President Donald Trump… it is easy to understand why many are ready to give up on the institution – including for having seemingly been missing in action on the current crisis.”
According to the two former leaders, both of whom took part in the 2008 emergency G20 summit convened by George W. Bush, Biden’s presidency is a good sign for the institution. They reasoned, among other key points, that the Italian presidency should consider convening another summit once Biden takes office in order to coordinate the global vaccine rush and avoid vaccine nationalism.
Until then, others will be filling that leadership void. The European Union (EU) took a lead on global vaccine distribution, urging the G20 to invest $4.5 billion in vaccines for countries that can’t afford them. The EU also presented a list of plans on pandemic preparedness, the economic recovery, climate change and debt relief. Chinese President Xi Jinping touched on these issues, too, leaning on a developmental message to eradicate global poverty.
The US was nowhere to be found on these issues and there’s reason to think that Biden may have played it differently. For all intents and purposes, leaders across the world are looking past Trump; everyone appears to be counting on his successor and whatever Trump did or didn’t do over the weekend is of little relevance.
But while Biden’s participation will be crucial for the final stretch of the pandemic, should the world really count on Washington’s leadership? After all, this would be the second 180-degree turn in policy in a four-year stretch and Biden’s already made clear he won’t slide from the political status quo that created this turbulence in the first place. Because of this, while acknowledging the world needs to cooperate with Washington on the pandemic in 2021, world leaders should be very wary of looking to Biden or any US administration for leadership in the long-term.
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