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Outside the G20, there were protests in the streets of Hamburg about a group of leaders acting as a closed-door steering committee for the world order. But inside, leaders weren't able to muster anything of the kind.

There was no steering, and no global order. Now the chief goal of the Group of 20, at least for Western leaders, is to contain U.S. President Donald Trump.

Some G20 leaders, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the host of the summit that ended Saturday, clearly still want it to be something like that global steering committee, and probably Justin Trudeau would, too. But with Mr. Trump there, it's just a hub where a lot of powerful leaders meet, not a place where they advance a collective agenda.

The symbol of that was the 19-vs-1 final communiqué on climate change, in which the leaders asserted that the Paris Accord on climate change was "irreversible," except for Mr. Trump's United States, which is already reversing course.

There was no hope that Mr. Trump was going to suddenly change his mind about pulling out of the Paris accord. Even for a leader known for acting impulsively, that's too big a flip-flop, too at odds with his political base, not to mention major Republican donors. For the G20, not mentioning Paris would have been just as obvious a display of a rift.

So they manufactured a ridiculous thing: a joint statement that the G20 was inexorably pushing ahead on climate change, but without the world's largest economy and second-largest greenhouse-gas emitter. Translation: Mr. Trump, once you're gone, we'll get back on track.

On trade, the G20 watered down its traditional habitual warnings against protectionism, at the request of the United States, by acknowledging the role of "legitimate trade defence instruments" – in other words, the use of protectionist measures when you feel you're being treated unfairly. It's not exactly a clarion call for free trade.

This is the sort of stuff to make countries such as Canada nervous. Canadian foreign policy has typically favoured international rules, because smaller and middle powers can get squeezed when things work along lines of pure power. That meant support for institutions largely built on U.S. design, such as the World Trade Organization. Mr. Trump's "America First" rhetoric has questioned all that.

But of course, we've known that for a while. The G20 just provided a display. What we didn't get was a glimpse of a New World Order. Maybe Russia's Vladimir Putin likes it that way; China's Xi Jinping seems to see an opportunity. Some Europeans, such as Ms. Merkel, speak boldly of Europe charting its own course, without really explaining what that means. Mr. Trudeau's government talks about playing a bigger role, but the United States is indispensable in Canadian foreign relations. For the time being, other Western leaders are trying to contain his impact, and in part, hoping he can be socialized – he does respond to some of what he hears from other leaders.

Mr. Trudeau plays a role in that. Other Western governments believe he has handled the relationship with Mr. Trump deftly; the stakes are high, the two leaders are ideologically opposed in many ways, but developed a rapport. At a G20 women's event, Mr. Trump gushed that Mr. Trudeau is doing a "spectacular job." Behind the scenes, the Germans have asked Canadian officials for advice.

But it's an exaggeration to say that allies see Mr. Trudeau as a "Trump whisperer." He's so far from the U.S. leader on some things that that's just not credible. British Prime Minister Theresa May, for example, worked to encourage Mr. Trump to express commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, as have Eastern European leaders nervous about Russian influence. On his pre-G20 trip to Poland, Mr. Trump gave a full-throated support for NATO. He does seem to change his views after talking to other leaders, so there's a belief that Trump whispering can have an impact.

Not so long ago, one of the diplomatic goals of the G20 was to try to socialize China, in a political sense – to bring an increasingly powerful country into a group agenda, notably on financial governance. Now, it's Mr. Trump's United States that is, amazingly, seen as the outlier in the club. Even so, a lot of those G20 leaders will want to make sure he stays in the club, to keep him contained.