Terry H. Schwadron
Sept. 25, 2019
Donald Trump brought his A-game speech-reading skills to the United Nations once again yesterday — and once again drew blanks from a General Assembly already inured to a message of American isolationism, American First-ism, American boosterism without backbone.
In short, Trump stepped up to bat Iran, China, Middle Eastern terrorists, almost anyone he could find to wear a tattered anti-American bent, and whiffed. The sound of the bat missing the ball could be heard around the diplomatic world.
Despite the distractions of impeachment drums in Washington, Trump also managed to deliver his bullying messages in a manner to reflect complete disdain for having a United Nations at all. Indeed, he dismissed “globalists” for nationalistic “patriots” who would look out for the welfare of individual home nations over international concerns.
By comparison the General Assembly promoted its big criteria for international cooperation before the world sessions began this week — with meetings on Climate Change and Universal Health Care. Trump, caring about neither, spent about 10 minutes at the climate meeting, opting out to speak a pro-Christian view point at a world religions event.
Trump used the UN meetings for those international goals that are good for domestic Trump seeking reelection.
For example, he undertook efforts on Monday to seek international support for efforts to protect religious freedom following increasing persecution of people on the basis of their beliefs and a growing number of attacks on and destruction of houses of worship by state and non-state forces. Of course, he left himself out as an avowed attacker of all-things-Muslim and to push back against LGBTQ people using the shield of religious freedom.
As with everything else, religious freedom to Trump is only exactly those actions that help him politically, and not really about religious freedom as anyone else might recognize.
That was just the warm-up for the broader attack on Iran and others who are deigning to get in Trump’s way; he would prefer simply to dictate to others, in the manner of authoritarians he so admires, than to actually negotiate with partners. In that context, it remained a question of whether behind the scenes, Trump was angling to meet with Iranian leaders to explore a way out of current critical diplomatic positions.
With verbal sneer, he derided any countries not lining up behind the United States.
“All nations have a duty to act. No responsible government should subsidize Iran’s blood lust,” Trump said. “As long as Iran’s menacing behavior continues, sanctions will not be lifted. They will be tightened. Iran’s leaders will have turned a proud nation into just another precautionary tale of what happens when a ruling class abandons its people and embarks on a crusade for personal power riches.”
Some way to do coalition-building, huh?
The Iran nuclear weapons development dispute has re-established the degree to which American isolationism has made it difficult to assemble a coalition of nations to confront Iran. France is being coy, as are Australia and Germany. Indeed, it is only because Boris Johnson, a Trump ally, is prime minister that Britain seems open to working together with the United States.
The idea that Trump wants to send American troops to guard Saudi Arabian oil fields is putting off lots of allies, who think rewarding the same Saudis who murder journalists in their consulates might be less than warranted.
And the news that Trump either leaned on or was attempting to extort the Ukraine into reopening an official investigation against American political foe Joe Biden is coming across as a step too far for Trump. Quite apart from the fact that Trump could face impeachment proceedings over the incident, the swelling scandal around the pressures on Ukraine over Biden suggest a strange view of taking care of patriotism at home.
Vox News quoted Stewart Patrick, a fellow in global governance at the Council on Foreign Relations, that the world has “taken the measures of the man at this stage. There is no real surprise.” that’s left Trump the odd man out — still a somewhat weird place for an American president to be, said Vox.
Indeed, Trump used his time to support a friendship with Brazilian President Jair Bolsanaro, who is under worldwide approbation for allowing commercial developers to burn down vast amounts of the Amazon rainforests. So much for paying attention to Science, observation, global warming or even the dramatics of a 16-year-old Swedish girl winning plaudits for organizing global protests for action on the warming climate.
It had seemed very clear that Trump would use this platform to call out Iran and specifically the recent bombing of the Saudi oil facilities, which the Trump administration has said Iran orchestrated. US allies largely blame the Trump administration for the escalating tensions with Iran.
It also was clear that his General Assembly audience was left at the station awaiting some directional word from Trump about a growing trade war with China, though they got a full dose of the role of trade as international relations, without a hint of human rights, concern for climate or help for any coming wave of climate refugees.
Less visible was the first big event for new UN Ambassador Kelly Craft, who was appointed to the job apparently based more on her background as a generous funder of the Trump campaign than extensive diplomatic experience. Given her boss’ message, irascibility and unpredictability, however, her inexperience hardly made a ripple this week.