Mailing It in to the UN
Terry H. Schwadron
Sept. 18, 2017
On some level, President Trump could just mail it in this week to the United Nations.
After all, we all already know the basics of what the American president will tell the General Assembly: That American interests come first, that North Korea and Iran are bad hombres, that the United States needs strong borders and loyal allies — even if the U.S. doesn’t quite return the favor in the same way, that American democratic values and business growth top all other values concerns.
We already know that it will not include a speech with soaring oratory that has the power to inspire, and that the ideas will be well-rehearsed lines read in ways to address his domestic base rather than try to persuade leaders from other countries.
But this is the President’s first visit to the United Nations, a group that he seems to hold in a bit of contempt. In its worldview, the President has said, it is thinking about political correctness and polite diplomacy rather than about American prosperity and job growth. As at least one columnist noted, it is a chance for personal diplomacy for Mr. Trump, a kind of constant cocktail party quick conversations with world leaders who get a chance to take stock of this different American president.
How refreshing it would be to have confidence that President Trump might roll into town (and somehow not totally screw up midtown traffic) and surprise all of us by using the occasion to actually commit diplomacy rather than brutish bullishness.
Mr. Trump has a chance to be in the same room with a North Korean ambassador, for example, and could extend a welcoming hand in a message of inclusion, and towards the hope of lowering the temperature of heated, caustic bellicosity. He has the chance for a real sit-down with the Chinese and Russian leadership, where he could lobby privately for a stronger hand towards resolution on the Korean peninsula.
The President could ask for a joint meeting between Saudis and Qataris to endorse a cooling of their heat, or some kind of conversation with Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and Mohammad Abbas of the Palestinian Authority (as former President Obama tried). Mr. Trump could listen to the Iranian delegation about what can be done to extend the reach of the nuclear agreement rather than threatening to sink it because we don’t like what Iran is doing in their non-nuclear efforts. He could make time to seek out the Bangladeshi delegation and the Myanmar government to try to get at why they can’t have a civil conversation about the seemingly permanent and cruel expulsion of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees.
And, just perhaps, he could find a moment to get with Enrique Pena Nieto about a more logical conversation about DACA, border immigration issues, and help for a devastating earthquake. I might faint dead away if Mr. Trump actually went looking for the Cubans to meet Raul Castro to discuss our mutual relationship, or meet Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela to find out more about why Maduro does not see a problem in declaring himself a virtual dictator.
What about the never-ending war in Syria and the never-ending line of refugees? Does it need actual work, and not just a punchline in a staid stump speech? Or he could embrace American participation in worldwide hunger problems.
He might really try to embrace long-term allies and their joint concerns with us. He could try to listen and learn rather than to dictate.
In other words, Mr. Trump could use his time and the weight of an appearance of the U.S. presidency to demonstrate real American values — all that stuff that people were so quick to talk about during the hurricane damage in Texas and Florida. Helping one another, that was the message then. But at the United Nations, we forget about that?
Alas, that vision is not going to take place. Rather we can anticipate a prideful, boastful, dictatorial American president grudgingly going to the UN to repeat the need to attack and destroy radical Islamic terrorism, to disparage international climate accords that ask U.S. businesses to join in efforts to keep temperatures from increasing and seas from rising, and to demand that other countries, like North Korea and Iran, bend to American wants, what the White House calls “sovereignty and accountability” to the United States by other nations.
Mr. Trump’s challenge is “to describe the Trump Doctrine on U.S. global leadership and engagement,” Zalmay Khalilzad, ambassador to the United Nations under former President George W. Bush told the New York Times. “The perception in many parts of the world, including the U.N., is that President Trump is unilateralist and isolationist. Trump has the opportunity to present and describe his vision and strategy. The world will be all ears.”
It would be nice to think that the American President could try to make a difference. As things stand, we worry even about whether he has enough diplomats around to even advise or execute policy that does emerge.