Trump delivers mixed message to United Nations

In a convoluted and contradictory speech to the United Nations on Tuesday, President Donald Trump called for the nations of the world to work together to rein in rogue regimes, yet at the same time undermined the ability of the United States to lead alliances aimed at doing exactly that.

He asked the United Nations, in collective action, to “work together and confront together those who threaten us with chaos, turmoil, and terror.” He voiced fond recollections of the Marshall Plan, when the United States invested much of its wealth in rebuilding a Europe destroyed by World War II.

Yet in the same speech, Trump suggested each nation should be prepared to be on its own, and certainly the U.S., charging that the organizations and agreements set up to manage global commerce and cooperation had failed his country.

The American people, he said, were ill served by “trade deals, unaccountable international tribunals, and powerful global bureaucracies,” that resulted in “millions of jobs vanished and thousands of factories disappeared.”

Speaking to a body that has aspirations of using collective efforts to improve our world, Trump offered an isolationist vision.

“We (world leaders) cannot wait for someone else, for faraway countries or far-off bureaucrats — we can’t do it. We must solve our problems, to build our prosperity, to secure our futures,” said the president.

Trump wanted it both ways. He sought to play the part of world leader, inspiring the nations assembled at the U.N. Yet at the same time Trump sought to appease his core supporters who see the United Nations and international accords as a threat to U.S. sovereignty.

The result was a speech that presented no coherent foreign policy doctrine, was salted with enough hawkish bombast to alarm the assembly, and provided no cooperative path forward for the threats Trump referenced.

The president’s most damaging comments centered on his criticism of the Iran deal negotiated by his predecessor to halt that nation’s development of nuclear weapons.

“We cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program. The Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into. Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States, and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it — believe me,” Trump said.

Agree or disagree with the deal, it required extensive diplomatic work as President Obama was able to pull together an unlikely coalition of diplomats from Britain, Russia, China, France and Germany to impose international sanctions and extract substantial concessions from Iran.

If Iran is cheating, the Trump administration should present the evidence, as called for by the terms of the deal.

But by ridiculing the agreement itself, this president is making his job and that of future presidents more difficult. How can the United States hope to effectively lead future diplomatic alliances if its partners know the U.S. support for the deal they are collectively negotiating may only last as long as the next president?

On North Korea, no one can disagree with the president’s description of it as a “depraved regime” because of its brutal suppression and mistreatment of its own people. North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons does threaten the world, as Trump said, both because it could use the weapons or sell the technology to terror groups.

But the name-calling, the threat “to totally destroy North Korea,” is below the standards of a U.S. president. It only raises the odds of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un digging in and increases the potential for a miscalculation by one side or the other leading to a massively destructive war. In fact such rhetoric raises his profile more than Kim deserves.

It will be a tall order for the Trump administration to reconcile the president’s isolationist inclinations and America First proclamations with the leadership role the United States has played in international affairs since World War II. Trump’s speech to the U.N. provided no clarification of how that reconciliation may take place and, if anything, suggested it may not.

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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