Donald Trump Brings His Brand Of Fear-Mongering To The World Stage
Global Weekly Briefing: UN General Assembly Edition
One of the biggest concerns Trump critics had upon his election was the fact that, as head of state, he would be the chief representative of the entire United States to the rest of the world. On Tuesday, the President reprised this role in his speech at the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly. Yes, the man who gets his intel about Europe from imaginary friends and has explained his counter-terrorism strategy as “bomb the shit out them” would be addressing the leaders of the entire world. And it went as one might expect:
To summarize the 41-minute tirade: Trump threatened “to totally destroy North Korea,” and renege on the Iran nuclear deal, described parts of the world as “going to hell,” extolled the virtues of nationalism, and generally complained about the ineffectiveness of the organization he was speaking to.
One cannot underestimate just how maniacal this speech was. The UN was created as a diplomatic forum to prevent the spread of war between states. In his speech to the body, Trump instead threatened to attack one of those very states. Other leaders have said and done outlandish things on the same stage: Muamnar Gaddafi once rambled for hours and tore pages out of the UN charter, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad once denied 9/11 and the Holocaust. None have ever threatened a direct attack on another country, however.
We lined up the AP's photo time stamp with the speech. Kelly had his hand on his face after Trump called North Korea a "band of criminals.
The rest of his speech was hardly better. Trump’s praise for the potential of the UN rung superficial next to his calls for countries to essentially go it alone. There were some warranted criticisms of the UN, such as its seeming emphasis on bureaucracy over action, and the inclusion of countries accused of human rights abuses to the Human Rights Council. However, the overall asinine churlishness of the speech made even the worst of the UN preferable to anything Trump had to offer.
World leaders expressed their displeasure accordingly. If Trump can be credited with one thing, it is creating a bizarro scenario of Western international relations, one in which yesterday’s “villains” seem more reasonable than the American leader himself. Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez once drew criticism for referring to George Bush as “Satan.” His successor, Nicolas Maduro, categorizing Trump as Hitler didn’t seem as out of place this time around. Neither did Iranian President Hassan Rouhani decrying Trump’s “ignorant, absurd and hateful rhetoric.”
The contrast with PM Benyamin Netanyahu’s high praise of the speech (“I have never heard a bolder or more courageous speech”) is also noteworthy, as it may well presage a return to American unconditional support for Israeli actions in the Middle East. This is something President Obama was moving away from, and is a danger to stability given rising tensions between Israel and Iran.
It has often been said that Trump was able to win over supporters by effectively gas-lighting Americans into believing their country was down in the dumps. With this speech, Trump was effectively trying to do the same on a global scale: extolling the dangers of authoritarianism and terrorism, carelessly boasting of the American ability to combat these threats, then letting everyone know that they should be thanking him for doing so. In so doing, he has surrendered any notion that America is a force for good, a harbinger of freedom, or a guarantor of democracy.
Hopefully, the global community will take due notice and act accordingly. Instead of falling prey to the Trumpian desire for isolationism, there should be ever more cooperation to solve the world’s biggest problems. For all its faults, the UN offers a forum to pursue such joint collaboration. Just don’t count on the US to take the lead anymore.
Despite what he may think, Trump is not the highlight of the General Assembly. Here are some of the biggest issues world leaders will be discussing:
Trump’s threats will do little to assuage Kim Jung Un’s calculations. What is needed after the imposition on the latest round of sanctions is to ensure their enforcement, most importantly when it comes to Russia and China. It will also be important to corral countries that have previously done business with North Korea, such as India and Vietnam, from continuing to do so.
The General Assembly is usually one of the few forums where American and North Korean diplomats can meet, given the lack of relations between the two countries. Trump’s careless rhetoric may have killed any hope of that, however. This leaves the rest of the Security Council to mend things, which makes any prospects for even the slightest improvement in relations very slim.
The four-month democratic crisis President Nicolas Maduro has created is no closer to being resolved. Previous action by regional bodies such as the Organization of American States have done little to bring a return to democracy, mostly due to leftist governments’ reluctance to punish an erstwhile ally. Eleven countries in the region did agree not to recognize Maduro’s constituent assembly, which was elected and installed despite boycotts from the opposition party, and dissolved the official (opposition-controlled) Venezuelan parliament last month.
President Trump has also levied sanctions on the country, which have received broad approval. However, they will probably only entrench Mr. Maduro further, as their unilateral nature gives credence to his accusations of American imperialistic intervention, at least in the eyes of his supporters. Tougher multilateral action is needed, with particular involvement from the EU (Spain has been calling for European sanctions mirroring American ones), Brazil (the regional power), and the Vatican (which has brokered talks before.)
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called the killings of ethnic Rohingya Muslims “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” South Asian countries will be keen for a resolution to the crisis, which started when the Burmese army began a renewed military offensive against militants in Myanmar’s Rakhine state late last month. The indiscriminate killings and burning of villages by both the military, as well as Buddhist mobs, have killed hundreds and have triggered a refugee crisis. There are currently about 400,000 Rohingya in camps in neighboring Bangladesh, and another 40,000 in India.
The Burmese government has refused to recognize their actions as ethnic cleansing, and do not even recognize the Rohingya as citizens of the state. Myanmar’s leader, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has long stayed mum on the issue. She broke her silence earlier this week, but neither admitted to any military killings of Rohingya nor seemingly believed military operations were still ongoing, even claiming she was unsure why any Rohingya would leave.
The Security Council has issued a statement condemning the attacks, but seem reluctant to pursue tougher measures on a country that just recently rejoined the international community, following a long period of military rule. China, Myanmar’s biggest patron, and business partner, has so far been particularly neutral on the issue, perhaps fearing their condemnations of Rohingya mistreatment might trigger unrest among their own minorities back home.
Talks on climate change will center around two issues. First, efforts will be made to maintain momentum on the Paris Accords, especially after President Trump threatened to pull the US out of the agreement. French President Emmanuel Macron specifically addressed this in his speech to the General Assembly, declaring Trump’s action as “a grave error.” China, which has quickly become the world’s biggest green-tech producer, will be keen to promote its wares to other countries. Developing countries, which contribute about 40% of global emissions (and growing), while also baring the biggest burden of climate change, will want to press rich countries for more aid to reduce emissions in a way that does not inhibit economic growth.
The other issue that will likely be discussed will be climate change mitigation, especially when it comes to natural disasters. Given that climate events are seldom confined to a single country, it only makes sense that there be greater coordination among nations at minimizing their negative effects. For example, countries in high-risk regions, such as those in the Caribbean Basin or South Asia, should step up joint coordination of disaster relief, perhaps by pooling resources and infrastructure for more effective disaster response. Lifting trade barriers among African countries could mitigate food shortages from droughts in the continent. Western countries should step up aid commitments for these and other efforts, if for no other reason than that to reduce refugee flows to their shores from those affected by climate change.
This General Assembly will certainly yield only minimal progress on any of these complex issues. But getting together and discussing the world’s problems has always been the first step to resolution. Action has to follow, however.