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The Buenos Aires G20 summit cemented, what really is US president Trump’s political strategy: Washington does not even care for a US leadership role – it’s just cutting deals. Trade trouble with China? The intermediate fixing sounds easy and fair: Trump stops tariffs on 200 billion US$ imports from China - and Beijing agrees to buy more US goods, mainly in the sectors agriculture, energy and industry, but without commitment to defined thresholds as yet; and in the aftermath, Trump tweeted, that Chinese tariffs on US cars, recently raised to a whopping 40%, would be reduced; Beijing had lowered other cars' tariffs from 25% to 15%.
The WTO will get a few new rules, most importantly on improved management of trade troubles; no need to hurry, the June G20 summit in Japan's Osaka is soon enough for the fixes.In the case of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Trump postponed his statement to the aftermath, announcing cancellation: leaving congress with a choice to support his new agreements with Canada and Mexico - or getting along without any agreement.
Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman may have ordered the murder of government friend-turned critical journalist Khashoggi - but mild European and Canadian criticism was all that happened - if at all. Russian president Putin and "MBS" exchanged a "hearty grip-and-grin" (NYT) - and Trump needs Saudi arms purchases and investments to keep the job machine running at home.
Kerch trouble drew the expected western criticism - without any special effort from Washington's side - as Trump all but cancelled his earlier cancellation of a scheduled meeting with his Russian colleague, certainly a wise step, which certainly raises the pressure of the powers in favor of bad US-Russia relations. There was no sign that other nations were shunning Russia for its reaction to the deliberate CIA-backed provocation in the Kerch Straight - the only bad boy of the summit being MBS, who was pushed to the side on the obligatory summit family picture as the only measurable consequence.
What is a little alarming for Germany and Europe is the fact, that would-be Merkel successor Kramp-Karrenbauer all but threatened a reduction of flow through the Nord Stream 2 pipeline due to Moscow's decisions to withhold return of boats and personnel to Ukraine. Nord Stream 2 is a known needle to Washington's Germany policy, since big US energy players try to cram down their more expensive fracking products down European pipes. But that was no matter for Buenos Aires, where German chancellor Merkel enjoyed special attention mostly for the already usual troubles with her A 340 government long-haul plane.
The only issue, which could have caused a G20 stir was discussion on the climate agreement - but Trump just does neither take part in these deliberations, nor give a special impetus in the matter - and nobody raises a fuss about it.
Leadership looks different.
The US has come a long way to the present situation: A series of attacks on 9/11 resulted in new US military outposts in 15 countries hitherto living happily without such uncalled-for guests, throwing innocent Afghanistan into a protracted and unnecessary war, entry into an illegal occupation of Iraq in 2003 on phony reasons, henceforth establishing a global reputation as "empire of chaos", as publicist Pepe Escobar has it, smashing Libya to pieces and at the same time to enter serial regime changes in a "CIA Spring" - that is the sure path to lose political leadership.
Finally, the Syrian failure marks the end of this leadership. And support to a financial system, which leads to the present historical currency bubble and an orchestrated Lehman Brothers crash in late 2008 - that is the economic lid on the coffin of global US leadership. To misuse a national currency - the US dollar - as a global lead exchange tool, much against Keynes' advice and by tricking the whole Bretton Woods mechanism, is one story; but to use this ruthlessly to hold the global financial system hostage and force other countries to pay for one's unholy wars, that is yet another issue and in fact no background for a true and long-term leadership role.
Leadership is looking for new candidates ever since – and it appears, that Russia and China have found valid and stable ways to come up with or take part in a system of groups and formats: be it BRICS or SCO; or processes, like the Astana meetings on Syria or the Normandy format to solve the Ukrainian crisis. And it comes as little wonder, that the US has no part in any of these four. US participation, however, continues in the NATO-ruled Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC), which appears slightly bloodless, same as the NATO-Russia Council, with the western side under Washington's guidance breaking any of the stipulations of the NATO-Russia Act.
In this context, the Buenos Aires G20 summit comes very much like business as usual in a world without US leadership. But there is no reason to heave a sigh of relief, because stray troops of the former leader are still around - globally, and often: illegally.