United States President Donald J. Trump delivered a blunt but hopeful address to the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday. His speech was what the world has come to expect from him; a call for cooperation and economic prosperity but heavy on nationalism and straight talk, sprinkled with classic, eyebrow-raising Trumpian zingers.
The themes were clear and summed up best by the President himself in three words; sovereignty, security, and prosperity, which he described as the “pillars of peace.” He called for the nations of the world to take ownership of their futures, to respect their neighbors and, above all else, the will of their people.
Peace Through Strength and Sovereignty
While Trump put member-states on notice that he would place American interests first, he acknowledged the prerogative of every other national government to do the same:
“As president of the United States, I will always put America first just like you, as the leaders of your countries, will always, and should always, put your countries first.”
Pointedly, the president – early in his speech – spoke of American military might. He referenced increased defense spending and told the Assembly that “our military will soon be the strongest it has ever been.” Doubtless, this was intended primarily for the ears of the North Korean, Iranian, Russian, and Chinese delegations. Trump went on to speak of rejecting “threats to sovereignty, from the Ukraine to the South China Sea.”
Despite the veiled warning, however, the president also thanked Russia and China for their cooperation on dealing with North Korea. He wasted no time in taking both the Iranian and North Korean regimes to task. “If the righteous many do not confront the wicked few,” he said, “then evil will triumph.”
Direct Warnings to Rogue Nations
Describing North Korea’s government as a “depraved regime” and a “band of criminals,” Trump could hardly have been more direct in his warning to that country’s leader, Kim Jong Un. Despite reassuring the gathered leaders that he preferred a peaceful resolution to the problem of North Korea’s escalating hostility, the president made clear his resolve:
“The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man [Kim] is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”
Before turning his attention to Iran, Trump told the Assembly that de-nuclearization was North Korea’s “only acceptable future.”
The message to Iran was an intentionally divided one. Trump was clearly sending a message of support to the Iranian people while putting that country’s leadership on notice. “The longest suffering victims of Iran’s leaders,” he pointed out, “are, in fact, its own people.” Trump pointed to Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism and described former President Obama’s agreement with that country as “an embarrassment to the United States.” The deal would not continue, Trump warned, if it provided Iran with cover to develop a nuclear program.
It is worth noting that Trump spent more time talking about the Iranian regime – its crimes against its own people and its destabilization of the Middle East – than he did North Korea. This appears to signal greater focus, in the future, on that region, along with a determination to bring the North Korean issue to a swift conclusion.
Trump Takes On Socialism
Instability in Latin America was another of the president’s concerns. He spoke of continuing sanctions against Cuba before turning his attention to the failed regime in Venezuela. Trump accused the socialist Venezuelan government, now lead by Nicolas Maduro, of bringing “a once-thriving nation to the brink of total collapse.” The American leader made no bones about the source of Venezuela’s economic implosion:
“The problem in Venezuela is not that socialism has been poorly implemented but that socialism has been faithfully implemented. From the Soviet Union to Cuba to Venezuela, wherever true socialism or communism has been adopted, it has delivered anguish and devastation and failure.”
The Way Forward
In what former UN Ambassador John Bolton described as “the best speech of the Trump presidency,” the leader of the free world laid out guiding principles for the international community, moving forward. With a strong emphasis on independence and sovereignty for all countries, Trump called for “a great reawakening of nations.”
He urged the UN to reform itself, noting, in particular, the failed mission of a Human Rights Council now comprised of countries whose own records in this area are nothing short of abysmal. He demanded that the U.S. – the organization’s leading contributor – be treated more fairly. President Trump encouraged a greater emphasis on respect, from governments, for people of all nations. He emphasized economic prosperity as a key to peace and stability. The contrast with the former occupant of the White House could not have been more clear. Love him or hate him, one cannot fail to recognize that Donald Trump intends to lead, rather than follow.