WASHINGTON — Rarely has President Trump’s role as a disrupter on the world stage been starker. At a moment of tumult over trade and nuclear security, he is shaking up the international order to make friends with America’s enemies and enemies out of America’s friends.
A businessman and entertainer with no diplomatic experience, Mr. Trump arrived at the White House nearly 17 months ago convinced that the economic and geopolitical alignments that have governed the world for seven decades were out of whack and biased against the United States.
But after a year of being restrained to some extent by advisers who championed that global order, Mr. Trump has replaced much of his national security team with more like-minded aides and is finally acting on his “America First” impulses in ways that are sending shock waves across Europe, Asia and North America.
At the annual meeting on Friday of seven major economies known as the Group of 7, Mr. Trump was the odd man out as he quarreled with Europeans and Canadians over trade and pushed for the reinstatement of Russia four years after it was cast out. Seemingly reluctant to spend more time with longtime allies than necessary, he planned to leave early on Saturday to meet instead with a longtime adversary, North Korea.
“There’s no question it’s a big moment,” said Julianne Smith, once a national security aide to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and now a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. “All the fundamentals are being called into question. We’re at a point where we have a U.S. president who doesn’t value the rules-based international order, and I’m not convinced he even knows what it is.”
Wary leaders of European and Asian allies have spent much of the past year trying to assuage him through flattery, concessions and friendly persuasion, only to find their efforts collapse in recent weeks in a storm of tariffs and a broken nuclear agreement with Iran. Even the leader of the engagement strategy, President Emmanuel Macron of France, seems to have given up, publicly expressing deep frustration with Mr. Trump and warning that the United States will isolate itself.
In the 24 hours before heading to Quebec, Mr. Trump attacked Canada on Twitter six times for “unfair” trade practices and threw in a few jabs at France and the European Union for good measure. While in Canada, he did not hold a separate meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain and showed up so late that a session with Mr. Macron had to be rescheduled.
At the same time, the American president has in the past few weeks praised Kim Jong-un, the repressive leader of North Korea who has ordered his own relatives killed, as “very honorable.” And this week, Mr. Trump even hailed Iran’s theocratic rulers as a “much, much different group of leaders” who have pulled back from malign activities in the Middle East since he ripped up a nuclear agreement with them, a conclusion few others share.
With no country has Mr. Trump’s attitude been more opposite from the rest of American foreign policymakers than Russia. Speaking with reporters on Friday before leaving the White House for the Group of 7 meeting in Canada, the president proposed readmitting Russia. “They should let Russia come back in because we should have Russia at the negotiating table,” he said.
Russia joined the group in the 1990s after emerging from the wreckage of the Soviet Union, making it the Group of 8, but its armed intervention in its neighbor Ukraine in 2014 and its seizure of Crimea angered other major powers. The remaining members, led by President Barack Obama, expelled Russia in a sign of global resolve not to let international borders be redrawn by force.
Mr. Trump offered no specific reasoning for why Russia should be let back in even though it retains control of Crimea and has not lived up to an international agreement to end its intervention in eastern Ukraine.
Indeed, Mrs. May, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and other leaders of the Group of 7 quickly rejected Mr. Trump’s suggestion, although he won support from Italy, which has traditionally had a closer relationship with Mr. Putin.
In Washington, lawmakers of both parties were either aghast or chose to ignore Mr. Trump’s suggestion on the assumption that it was yet another offhand remark just to stir the pot, not a serious initiative.
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic minority leader, said Mr. Trump demonstrated that he was unable “to distinguish between our allies and adversaries.” Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona and the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said Mr. Putin had made Russia “unworthy of membership in the G-8 by invading Ukraine and annexing Crimea.”
“This is weak,” added Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska. “Putin is not our friend and he is not the president’s buddy. He is a thug using Soviet-style aggression to wage a shadow war against America, and our leaders should act like it.”
But some experts said that the critics were overreacting and that the Europeans should stop “acting petulant,” as James Jay Carafano, a scholar at the Heritage Foundation, put it. “For all the sturm and drang, nothing has changed in the fundamentals of the trans-Atlantic community,” he said. “NATO is a necessity, not a nice to have. The trading and economic partnership between the U.S., Canada and Europe is reality that doesn’t change with presidents.”
Mr. Trump’s advocacy for Russian membership in the Group of 7 was in keeping with his against-the-grain attitude toward Moscow. He has repeatedly spoken in flattering terms about Mr. Putin and pushed for closer ties.
During a telephone call after Mr. Putin’s re-election, widely deemed a sham by the rest of the world, Mr. Trump congratulated him on his victory even though his staff had written “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” on a briefing document. He also suggested Mr. Putin visit him at the White House, to the chagrin of policymakers who have been trying to isolate Russia.
At the same time, in recent months, Mr. Trump has allowed other members of his administration to voice sharp criticism of Russia. He authorized sanctions in response to cyberattacks and its intervention in the 2016 presidential election, although only after Congress forced his hand by voting nearly unanimously to pass new penalties on Moscow over his objections.
Mr. Trump went along with allies and ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats and the closing of its consulate in Seattle after the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain. But he privately complained that he was being pushed to do more than he wanted.
When Nikki R. Haley, his ambassador to the United Nations, announced that new sanctions would be imposed on Russia for supporting Syria’s use of chemical weapons against its own people, Mr. Trump publicly contradicted her and refused to authorize the move.
In speaking with reporters on Friday, Mr. Trump insisted that he has been tough on Moscow, even more than Hillary Clinton would have been had she won the 2016 election. “I have been Russia’s worst nightmare,” he said. “If Hillary got in — I think Putin is probably going, man, I wish Hillary won.”
Even the Russians, however, did not think Mr. Trump’s latest suggestion was serious.
“The president’s nature is so mercurial that it would be wrong for Russia to become an instrument in Trump’s unpredictable statements,” said Dmitri Trenin, the director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, a research institution.
“The G-8 belongs to a certain era, and that era is over,” he added. “That project has failed. The integration of Russia into the Western system is over.”
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