Trump’s defiant debut at the U.N.
President Donald Trump struck a defiant and confrontational tone in his maiden speech to the United Nations General Assembly this week, vowing to “totally destroy” North Korea if it threatens the U.S. or its allies, denouncing the 2015 nuclear disarmament deal with Iran as an “embarrassment,” and urging fellow world leaders to embrace “national sovereignty.” In a fiery address that drew mostly stony silence, some light applause, and occasional gasps from some members of the 193 international delegations, Trump denounced the “depraved” regime in Pyongyang for recent ballistic missile and nuclear tests, and said Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un— whom he mocked as “Rocket Man”—was on “a suicide mission.” Describing “rogue regimes” as “the scourge of our planet,” the president suggested he would seek to renegotiate the “one-sided” nuclear deal with the “murderous” government in Tehran (see Talking Points), and threatened the “socialist dictatorship” in Venezuela with further sanctions. Trump also warned of the growing threat from “radical Islamic terrorism,” and promised he wouldn’t allow “loser terrorists” to “tear up the entire world.”
In an explanation of his “America first” foreign policy, Trump promised that the U.S. would “forever be a great friend to the world,” but said he wouldn’t let his country “be taken advantage of” or enter into “one-sided” agreements. He implored other world leaders to do the same, stressing the value of “strong, sovereign nations.” The U.S. doesn’t “seek to impose our way of life on anyone,” he said, “but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to watch.”
What the editorials said
Much of what the president told delegates in New York was “directly on point,” said the Los Angeles Times. The U.N. should do more to address violations of human rights and national sovereignty by the authoritarian regimes in Pyongyang, Tehran, and Caracas. But the president’s message was undermined by his “needlessly offensive” tone and “juvenile” insults. Threatening to annihilate an entire country of 25 million people; describing Iran as a “rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed, and chaos”—this “guns-blazing rhetoric” may sound tough, but it achieves nothing and is in fact counterproductive.
Trump’s “Rocket Man” jibe was straight out of the “school yard,” said The Wall Street Journal, but he deserves credit for trying to focus “a cynical world’s attention” on an increasingly perilous situation. “Traditional diplomacy” hasn’t altered the thinking of either Kim or his “patrons in Beijing,” and Trump’s speech signaled that unless something changes, “he intends to do something about it.”
What the columnists said
It used to be international “pariahs” like Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez who spouted “hateful nonsense” to the General Assembly, said Ryu Spaeth in NewRepublic.com. Now it’s the president of the United States. If Americans ever wondered what it’s like “to be led by a wild-eyed megalomaniac,” now we know. The Trump doctrine, if there is one, is “intellectually confused,” said Fred Kaplan in Slate.com. He claimed every government should respect the “national sovereignty” of other nations, yet in the same breath threatened North Korea and Venezuela. He chided Cuba and Iran for human-rights violations, but “said nothing about the similarly dreadful records of Russia, Saudi Arabia, or Turkey.” Why? Their leaders flatter him.
Let’s be fair here, said Jonathan Tobin in NationalReview.com. Every recent U.S. administration has “made exceptions for authoritarian governments it needed to work with.” They’ve also all promised to defend America’s interests “against aggressive rogue regimes.” The truth is, for all the “huffing and puffing” over the “shocking” language in Trump’s speech, the substance was “remarkably similar” to that of his predecessors.
But tone matters a great deal in international relations, said Doyle McManus in the Los Angeles Times. Diplomats know it’s important to treat their adversaries with respect “and provide them a dignified way to retreat from their original positions.” Trump did the exact opposite, “ridiculing” Kim and signaling that Pyongyang’s only option was to “give up its entire nuclear program.” If Kim crosses the “red line” Trump has drawn, the president will have only two options: “Back down or go to war.” If he chooses war, the “Rocket Man” speech “will be remembered as one of the first steps that took us there.” ■