(CNN)The odd man out at the G7 gathering of the world’s richest democracies, President Donald Trump cut a weary figure at a farewell press conference Monday, where he boosted the pariah Russian President Vladimir Putin, railed against Barack Obama, and once again bragged about the great relationship he and his wife, Melania, have with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
In contrast, Emmanuel Macron emerged from the conference as an energetic leader who bypassed America to make a diplomatic outreach to Iran. The French President’s deft conduct at the G7, which featured climate change as a main topic, was all the more notable because of Trump’s clumsiness. As is his habit, Trump offered conflicting messages on the trade war he started with China, blamed his predecessors for the nation’s troubles — and failed to note that Melania Trump has never met Kim Jong Un.
Macron — and the world — are well aware of Trump’s inability to work well with others. Indeed, at the last G7 Trump
reneged on a commitment to affirm a pro-trade joint communique all the others had approved, and attacked the summit’s host, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, personally, calling him “very dishonest and weak.”
And so as Macron planned to host this year’s meeting, he decided there would be no communique at all to organize the proceedings, depriving Trump of the chance to repeat his skunk-in-the garden-party trick.
The French leader matched this defensive decision — which freed him to set a more unpredictable agenda — with an offense move of his own. To the surprise of many, he welcomed Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif to Biarritz on Sunday, opening the door for him to discuss trade security with his counterparts.
France was one of the six countries that signed a deal that froze Iran’s nuclear weapons program in 2015. (The others were the United Kingdom, Russia, France, China, Germany and the US). Under intense monitoring, Iran complied with its part of the bargain and received, in turn, more favorable trading arrangements with the rest of the world. However, Trump regards Iran as an enemy — and the agreement was devised by Obama (also a Trump enemy). He alienated the other signatories by abandoning the agreement last year.
Trump did not meet with Zarif in Biarritz, but Macron’s move appeared to coax him into a more conciliatory posture toward Iran.
While Macron was deftly circumventing him on Iran, Trump was also outplayed by his erstwhile buddy Boris Johnson on the issue of climate change. Regarded by some as Britain’s version of Trump, Prime Minister Johnson glad-handed his American counterpart, but reminded the world that he disagrees with the President on climate change. Johnson expressed concern
about threats to biodiversity and he actually attended the G7 session on climate change, which Trump skipped.
The insult evident in Trump’s absence from that meeting was amplified by the deceptive explanation offered for his failure to attend. According to the White House press secretary, “The President had scheduled meetings and bilaterals with Germany and India, so a senior member of the Administration attended in his stead.” In fact,
the two leaders who supposedly kept Trump away were in their assigned chairs at the climate session. All anyone had to do to determine the truthfulness of the Trump claim was check a photo of the meeting, which circulated widely in the press.
A telling photo also seemed to reveal Justin Trudeau practicing a little gamesmanship with First Lady Melania Trump. Thanks to the angle of Trudeau’s approach as he greeted the First Lady, cameras appear to have caught Mrs. Trump about to plant a big kiss on the movie-star-handsome Trudeau.
In fact, it was only an air kiss, but the internet was ablaze with commentary about the apparently smitten look on Melania Trump’s face.
Petty as it may seem — and much of what is being said on social media about Trudeau and the First Lady is petty — it’s no surprise to see so much attention focused on the possible signals in photos. Much of the world is exhausted by President Trump’s behavior and his attention seeking.
During the G7, China’s foreign ministry joined the pushback against Trump, pouring cold water on the President’s claim
that recent contacts between Beijing and the administration suggested progress in the trade war Trump started. “We’ve gotten two calls,” over the weekend, Trump said on Monday. “They want to be able to make a deal.” But a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry told a news briefing: “Regarding the phone call in the weekend, I am not aware of that.”
Like the Chinese, the G7 leaders seem to have figured out Trump’s methods, and have devised ways to quietly cope with them. Trump likes to present himself as a unique, even heroic figure who can do things others cannot. In Biarritz he even suggested that if he
— and not Barack Obama — had been president when Russia invaded Crimea, it would have been stopped. He also vehemently urged leaders to bring Vladimir Putin, who was exiled from what was once the G8 because of his aggression, back into the great nations’ club.
No other members of the group have proposed bringing Russia back into the fold, and as he suggested it — and they resisted — Trump underlined his isolated status.
Indeed, weak as the President seemed in contrast with Macron, his cravenly self-interested comments at the Monday press conference highlighted his scant relevance to the proceedings.
He added a parting shot of venality as he prepared to leave Biarritz: Asked about next year’s G7, he launched into a marketing pitch for the session to be held at his Doral resort in Florida where, he said, the acreage would provide lots of parking. He followed with an odd reference to the money he thinks he’s lost
while serving as President of the United States and not the chief executive of the Trump Organization.
“Probably it will cost me anywhere from $3 to $5 billion to be President,” said Trump, citing the example of lost income from public speaking. “I used to get a lot of money to make speeches, now I give speeches all the time. You know what I get? Zippo.”
Trump softened the complaint — which he brought up himself — by suggesting that he doesn’t care about the lost money.
His bragging about Doral, along with his disrespectful absence from the climate change session, served only to draw attention to how much he deviates from accepted norms. Trump may still think he’s a leader of mythic proportions, but every day it seems more clear that he’s only a hero in his own mind.