Hours after returning from his second presidential foray abroad, Donald Trump and his representatives were out in force Sunday, calling the trip an “outstanding success.” White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, told a television interviewer on “Fox News Sunday” the president was “a star” at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany.
Trump led the charge, firing off a series of Twitter posts highlighting several accomplishments, including a cease-fire in Syria that “will save lives,” and noting that he held firm on sanctions against Russia during his talks with President Vladimir Putin.
“Sanctions were not discussed at my meeting with President Putin,” he wrote. “Nothing will be done until the Ukrainian & Syrian problems are solved!”
Earlier, Trump posted a statement from former Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole, who said the president’s speech in Poland was “one for the ages,” and added: “Americans should be proud of the strong leadership being restored.”
Trump: ‘I strongly pressed Putin’
In two other Sunday tweets, Trump pushed back at critics who say he was not tough enough in confronting Putin on Russia’s election interference:
“I strongly pressed President Putin twice about Russian meddling in our election. He vehemently denied it.”
“Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded.”
Opposition Democrats ridiculed the idea of working with Russia to prevent election meddling. In a TV appearance (CNN’s “State of the Union”), Congressman Adam Schiff, the senior Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, said a cybersecurity partnership with Moscow would be “dangerously naïve.”
“If that’s our best election defense, we might as well just mail our ballot boxes to Moscow,” Schiff said.
Skeptics in Trump’s own party
Several senators from Trump’s own Republican Party also dismissed the concept of a Moscow-Washington cybersecurity partnership. Senator Lindsey Graham on NBC’s “Meet the Press” said it was “not the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard, but it’s pretty close.”
By the end of the day on Sunday, Trump had backtracked on his push for the cybersecurity unit, tweeting that he did not think it could happen.
“The fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn’t mean I think it can happen. It can’t,” Trump said on Twitter. He then noted that an agreement with Russia for a ceasefire in Syria “can & did” happen.
Overseas reaction to Trump’s performance in Europe was mixed, but much of it was scathing. Australian journalist Chris Ullman, in commentary broadcast on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, said Trump had managed to “isolate his nation, confuse and alienate his allies and to diminish America.” Uhlmann said Trump had demonstrated “no desire and no capacity to lead the world.”
Other Trump critics on both sides of the Atlantic have voiced similar concerns, questioning whether actions such as pulling the United States out of the Paris climate accord have damaged America’s reputation as the leader of the free world.
Joshua Walker, a fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States who was in Germany during last week’s summit, told VOA he sees in Trump worrying signs that could portend a decline in America’s standing.
US losing free-world leadership?
Walker argued one individual leader cannot erase 70 years of post-World War Two history. “It’s too early to say America is no longer the leader of the free world, because there’s no alternative,” he said, but also noted the rise of China, the skilled diplomacy of Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel in reaching agreement among G20 leaders and the just completed Japan-EU trade deal all suggest a new era is dawning.
“The fact that [the G20 was] able to reach a deal in an age in which the United States may not be able to dictate its own economic edicts anymore tells you that there’s something going on in the international environment,” Walker said. “And while the United States continues to be the leader of the free world. It’s not taken for granted at this point. Other countries, such as Japan and Germany, are showing leadership on the international stage.”
Daniel Hamilton, a professor at the Austrian Marshall Plan Foundation, said Merkel, not Trump, was the star of the summit, winning international plaudits for insisting on a joint communiqué despite U.S. refusal to join the other 19 members in calling climate change “irreversible.”
“Unfortunately – and I deplore this – the United States of America left the climate agreement, or rather announced their intention of doing this,” Merkel said in a clear rebuke to Trump as she closed the summit.
“She hit it out of the park, and showed she could bring people together,” Hamilton told VOA.
Praise for Warsaw speech
Other observers say Trump’s biggest success on this trip may not have been at the summit, but in a widely hailed speech he delivered in Poland a day earlier.
Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation, called the Warsaw speech “a significant defense of sovereignty and Western civilization.”
“These are big themes for some of the emerging powers in Europe; Poland and Hungary, for instance,” Gardiner said. “Trump had a message a lot of Europeans support, but that has been buried within the European Union. This speech is a game-changer, and there will be lot of attention paid to that for years to come.”