Trump Makes His First Speech to the United Nations
This speech will undoubtedly be remembered as the “Rocket Man” speech since he referred to the leader of North Korea as a “Rocket Man on a suicide mission” during the speech.
The speech can be seen in three ways; first, how it was seen domestically, second how it was viewed by foreign leaders, and third, how it delineated the “Trump Doctrine.”
The Trump Doctrine also had another audience – citizens of other countries. He told them that is was okay to be proud of their own nation and its accomplishments – a theme not popular with world leaders looking towards a more global approach to problems – but likely to resonate with people in many regions of the world.
In his first address to the United Nations, President Trump spoke to Americans and delineated the Trump Doctrine by delivering a defense of the importance of national sovereignty, while defending an American-centered world order. He addressed foreign nations when he spoke forthrightly about threats to international peace and security emanating from North Korea and other “rogue states”.
Trump laid out the essentials of the Trump doctrine. The foundation of a healthy international order is a “coalition of strong and independent nations that embrace their sovereignty to promote security, prosperity, and peace for themselves and for the world.” Trump specifically rejected the notion that nations must conform to the same political or cultural ideals, but he did not simply fall back on an international relativism. Trump declared, “We do expect all nations to uphold these two core sovereign duties: to respect the interests of their own people and the rights of every other sovereign nation.”
Trump underlined his doctrine when blasting what he labeled the world’s rouge nations. A good example was directed at Venezuela. Trump said, “The problem in Venezuela is not that socialism has been poorly implemented, but that socialism has been faithfully implemented.”
The stony silence that followed that statement showed the differing ideology of the US and the rest of the world. The same comment made at his rallies or even before Congress would be met with a standing ovation.
Regarding North Korea, Trump was his usual bellicose self — even working in his new pet insult for Kim Jong-un, calling him “Rocket Man” “on a suicide mission.” However, remember that a nickname doesn’t constitute a policy. Yes, the president memorably pledged to “totally destroy” North Korea if the U.S. “is forced to defend itself or its allies.” Yet massive retaliation and regime change in the event of a renewed Korean War has been American policy for decades.
Many of these lines were for domestic consumption because it’s still not clear what Trump’s North Korean strategy is. Nor, is it clear if Trump will meaningfully shift American policies regarding Iran. He declared the nuclear deal an “embarrassment.” It’s clear that he wants to opt out of the deal, but he hasn’t thus far, and it’s far from certain that he will in the future. Clearly Trump is frustrated with both regimes and the diplomatic status quo. But forging something different is much easier said than done; both nations have consistently and successfully defied his predecessors.
Trump ended his address with an ode to patriotism, noting that a desire for a free nation has inspired some of history’s most admirable fights: “Patriotism led the Poles to die to save Poland, the French to fight for a free France, and the Brits to stand strong for Britain.” In a rebuke to those who imagine a body like the U.N. eventually growing into a global government, Trump argued that the world is best served when nations “defend their interests, preserve their cultures, and ensure a peaceful world for their citizens.”
Indeed, earlier in the speech, he referred to the post–World War II Marshall Plan as being “built on the noble idea that the whole world is safer when nations are strong, independent, and free.”
Trump still sees the nation state as a critical factor in peace, international politics, and improving the lives of people. He called patriotism — love of one’s own country, and what he called the necessary basis for sacrifice and “all that is best in the human spirit” — into the basis for international cooperation to solve problems that nations must face together. “The true question,” he said, is “are we still patriots?”
This is sort of a global version of Objectivism – a libertarian philosophy that the world works better when individuals seek out their own best interest. In this case, the world works best when nations serve their citizen’s best interests and seek out the nation’s best interests when dealing with other nations. This reinforces the belief that Trump isn’t a traditional conservative, but a philosophical libertarian.
Trump also used patriotism as a way to differentiate between rogue governments and the citizens of that nation. Trump carefully distinguished between the regime in Iran, “whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed, and chaos,” and “the good people of Iran,” adding that “Iran’s people are what their leaders fear the most” after only “the vast military power of the United States.”
This implies a different reaction to a popular uprising in Iran than was seen while Obama was in power. Trump may very well covertly conspire and support any popular uprising against the Iranian leadership.
This doctrine of nationalism and patriotism should not be ignored elsewhere. When he said a core sovereign duty was “to respect the interests of their own people,” one wonders how these words played in Catalonia and Scotland, where regional nationalism is growing. No doubt these words also boosted the national aspirations of the Kurds.
Although it’s too early to tell, the theme of nationalism may have a major impact. Thanks to immigration, nationalism is a growing undercurrent in Europe. And, there are several regions in the world that seek independence.
Despite the rhetoric, Trump’s speech was not a political stump speech before supporters. It showed much traditional Republican foreign policy strains – with Trump accepting America’s international role, despite his complaints about the costs. He, however, did add a few of his signature nationalist themes.
The conventional Republican foreign policy was evident in the response to it. While Democrats like Hillary Clinton panned it, many experienced Republican foreign policy experts saw it as a success.
Elliott Abrams a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former Deputy National Security Advisor wrote in National Review, “Fair judges will call this speech a real success. Trump rose to the occasion and offered a speech that had both striking rhetoric and a sound argument that the success of individual states, each looking out for its own interests, is the basic building block of a successful U.N. and international system. This was a rare speech in that chamber, which has been filled with decades of lies, hypocrisy, and globaloney. Trump paid the organization and the delegates the courtesy of telling them squarely how his administration sees the world.”
However, Abrams did note, “What did Trump not talk about? The Israeli–Palestinian conflict. At times that problem was the central item in President Obama’s speeches to the U.N., so its absence in Trump’s first address to the General Assembly was very striking. He wants to get a deal done, as he reiterated when meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, but he realizes that the conflict is not central to world politics or even to stability and peace in the Middle East. So it had no place in this text.”
So, what can we take out of the speech? The most important part is the Trump doctrine. He will not be ashamed of “America First” or “Make America Great Again.” However, he indicated he will tolerate the nationalistic tendencies of other nations. That implies that he will understand nationalistic tendencies when dealing with other nations – something he would understand as a businessman who knew every negotiator he faced was looking out for his own business’s best interest.
Trump also made it clear that he doesn’t see the United Nations as the lynchpin of international peace of cooperation. He reminded the delegates that the United Nations was never meant to be a gigantic bureaucracy that would steadily become a world government. And, reiterating his nationalism theme, he said, it is an association of sovereign states whose strength depends “on the independent strength of its members.” Its success, he argued, depends on their success at governing well as “strong, sovereign, and independent nations.”
In other words, he will not go out of his way to get a UN Security Council resolution before taking action against a perceived “rouge nation”.
We also know that Trump will not tone down his language at international forums. While others may be vague, Trump made it clear that if Kim attacks the United States, “we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.”
Trump has only been in office for nine months and his foreign policy is a work in progress. So far he has steered clear of the mistakes that seemed possible during the campaign – turning his back on NATO, for instance – and, in fact, hasn’t plowed much new ground. With the exception of the pullout from the Paris accords and his threat to pull out of NAFTA, the president has accepted the status quo. But his critics tend to consider that the status quo in North Korea and Iran means failure.
U.S. Facing Unwelcome Facts About North Korea Nukes
By Peter Brookes
September 7, 2017
Here’s a dose of unpleasant reality about North Korea: It’s extremely unlikely that it’s ever going to agree to get rid of its increasingly threatening nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programs. Yes, I mean, ever. While I’d be happy to be proven wrong about diplomatic possibilities, I’m not optimistic about North Korea coming to a negotiating table to freeze or end its nuclear and ballistic missile projects. Despite the prospects of pariah status, further diplomatic isolation and more painful economic sanctions, Pyongyang has plenty of good reasons — in its thinking — to hold onto its weapons of mass destruction, or WMD. For instance, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sees his advancing nuclear and missile capabilities as a life insurance policy for the Kim dynasty, the regime and North Korea — protecting him from his perceived enemies (including South Korea and the United States).
Alternatives to the Iran Deal Carry Too Much Risk
By John Glaser and Emma Ashford
September 19, 2017
President Donald Trump is poised to make one of the most fateful decisions of his White House tenure. In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly, he lambasted the regime in Iran and, in a deeply misleading reference to the Iran nuclear deal negotiated by his predecessor, he said this of the United States: “We cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program.” The President added:
“Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States, and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it, believe me.” That threat is an apparent reference to Trump’s stated intention to begin to deliberately unravel the nuclear deal next month. Yet his Administration has offered no good alternative, and every policy option outside the deal will push Iran towards the bomb.
Power and Strategy: The President Needs to Order His Priorities in the Middle East
By Jon Alterman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
September 20, 2017
To many leaders in the Middle East, the Trump administration is a breath of fresh air. The president’s statements about battling extremism and reinforcing the status quo, and his general disinterest in the region’s domestic conditions, are a huge relief after President Bush and President Obama pursued regional strategies that tied domestic repression to fomenting radicalization. To others in the region, the Trump administration is a menace. They not only see it pursuing anti-Muslim (and pro-Israel) policies, but they also see it tipping the region toward greater militarism and conflict. The two sides agree on one point, though: The Trump administration has many Middle East policies but no visible strategy, and that makes it harder for any of them to cooperate with the United States.
100 Days of Pointless Arab Self-Destructiveness and Counting
By Anthony H. Corpsman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
September 19, 2017
No American can criticize Arab states without first acknowledging that the United States has made a host of mistakes of its own in dealing with nations like Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen. The fact remains, however, that the word “Arab” has come to be a synonym for disunity, dysfunctional, and self-destructive. Regardless of issuing of one ambitious “Arab” plan for new coalitions after another, the reality is failed internal leadership and development, pointless feuding between Arab states, and an inability to cooperate and coordinate when common action is most needed. The most immediate example is the series of efforts by Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE to isolate, embargo, and boycott Qatar. Some 100 days have passed since they issued some 13 broad, categorical, and poorly defined demands that Qatar change its behavior. These demands may or may not have been reduced to six equally badly phrased and vague statements, but this is unclear. There have been some faltering steps towards negotiation, and President Trump (after helping to trigger the embargo) has made a serious effort at mediation. So far, however, the crisis continues, along with references to “mad dogs” in the Arab League, and new sets of mutual accusations.
Trump’s UN speech: What makes America first
By Gary J. Schmitt
American Enterprise Institute
September 20, 2017
As Trump speeches go, his address before the UN General Assembly was one of his better efforts. Elliott Abrams of the Council on Foreign Relations has done a good job of pointing out the strengths of the speech. But, as Elliott also notes, there is a striking absence in the President’s remarks regarding basic rights and democracy — staples of American presidential foreign policy rhetoric in the past. Instead, the president prioritized the concepts of national sovereignty and the nation-state. Presumably, the president sought to contrast his vision of an international order held together by national sovereignty to the dangers arising from globalization: the blurring of state boundaries, the dissolution of national cultures, and the collapse of civic attachments. One struggles to imagine being a citizen, let alone a patriot, the president implies, if there is no “civitas,” no distinct community to have an attachment to. Trump’s argument on sovereignty holds some merit. Indeed, the president would have done well to remind his listeners that the founders of the UN designed the body so as to avert those flaws that plagued the League of Nations — chief among them, undue faith in the organizing potential of the altruism of individual nations.
Time to Accept Reality and Manage a Nuclear-Armed North Korea
By Michael D. Swaine
September 11, 2017
Anyone following the growing crisis on the Korean Peninsula in recent weeks has been treated to an endless parade of op-eds on what to do about it, written from almost every conceivable angle. Despite the variation among these perspectives, most such proposals remain focused on how to get Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, this objective appears less and less viable with every new North Korean (DPRK) missile and nuclear test. This suggests the need for policymakers in the United States, China, South Korea, and Japan to adopt a more realistic approach focused on deterrence, containment, and an array of crisis management measures. While some nongovernmental observers are beginning to call for this approach, few if any present a clear explanation of either the reasons why such a refocus is needed, what specific key features it should include, or how to carry it out. This is a first step in that direction.
Democracy Promotion Under Trump: What Has Been Lost? What Remains?
By Thomas Carothers
September 06, 2017
Eight months into his presidency, Donald Trump is still only starting to elaborate his foreign policy. Some crucial areas, such as Russia policy, remain largely undeveloped. With regard to U.S. support for democracy abroad, however, his intentions and actions are clear: he seeks to shift the United States away from the broad commitment to actively supporting democracy’s global advance that former president Ronald Reagan established in the early 1980s and that all U.S. presidents since, Republican and Democratic alike, have pursued in at least some substantial ways. Compounding this shift is the damage the new president has inflicted on U.S. democracy as a model for others. Yet despite all this, important elements of U.S. democracy support—pro-democratic diplomacy in countries under stress, democracy assistance, and engagement with democracy-related multilateral institutions—remain at least partially intact. And Congress maintains strong bipartisan backing for democracy and rights support. U.S. democracy policy is under severe strain, but writing off the United States as a key supporter of global democracy, as some observers in the United States and abroad are already doing, is premature.
Regional War and the Middle East
By Hillel Fradkin and Lewis Libby
Optimism is hazardous in the Middle East. Still, some take solace that we have passed the days of general regional war of the kind that we saw in the Johnson and Nixon administrations, when major Middle Eastern armies squared off, Israel tottered, and radical leaders threatened to unite Islam against the West. Instead, the region has dissolved into a series of border clashes and ugly civil wars. But beneath today’s mayhem the balance of power has been shifting; and in time, left undisturbed, current trends may lead to where general war looms once again, only now in a nuclear context. The prospect of just such dangers motivated Israel to send delegations to Moscow and Washington in recent weeks. In today’s 24-hour news cycle world, one marked by casualty counts and the rubble of obscure Syrian villages, governments often find it hard to look out a few months, let alone a few years. But if leaders, such as Netanyahu, do so, the long-term prospects are daunting.