So how was President Trump’s UNGA speech for you?
Opinions are broadly divided:
Let’s look at some of the language itself.
In his final address to the UN General Assembly, President Obama used the word nations some 20 times:
we can rally our nations to solidarity while recognizing equal treatment for all communities
international cooperation rooted in the rights and responsibilities of nations
replace the ravages of war with cooperation — if powerful nations like my own accept constraints
In his 2017 speech President Trump uses the nations word even more liberally, nearly 40 times:
It is far past time for the nations of the world to confront another reckless regime
It is time for the regime to free all Americans and citizens of other nations
We agreed that all responsible nations must work together
But there’s a difference!
President Obama does not mention sovereign or sovereignty once. President Trump uses that idea eight times:
strong, sovereign nations let their people take ownership of the future
strong, sovereign nations allow individuals to flourish
we must fulfil our sovereign duties to the people we faithfully represent
Peter Beinhart at The Atlantic spots this and draws conclusions:
Obama was endorsing the idea of reciprocity. He wasn’t disavowing America’s power disparity. He wasn’t suggesting that Gambia should have as much influence over America’s internal affairs as America has over Gambia’s. But he was suggesting that, because sovereignty is not absolute, it can’t be absolute for the United States either. At its best, he declared, the United States had “bound our power to international laws and institutions.”
For Trump, by contrast, sovereignty means both that no one can tell the United States what to do inside its borders and that the United States can do exactly that to the countries it doesn’t like. That’s not the liberal internationalism that Obama espoused. Nor is it the realism of some of Obama’s most trenchant critics. It is imperialism.
Piffle. It’s merely putting a different firm emphasis on the way international cooperation works, where the best business is done by talking bilaterally or in groups of the like-minded rather than in formal international bodies such as the UN.
That may create problems or be unwise, depending on the issue/context. But it’s still a process based on dialogue and active cooperation, as President Trump himself emphasised in many places:
In Saudi Arabia early last year, I was greatly honored to address the leaders of more than 50 Arab and Muslim nations. We agreed that all responsible nations must work together to confront terrorists and the Islamist extremism that inspires them …
Out of the goodness of our hearts, we offer financial assistance to hosting countries in the region, and we support recent agreements of the G20 nations that will seek to host refugees as close to their home countries as possible. This is the safe, responsible, and humanitarian approach
But making a better life for our people also requires us to work together in close harmony and unity to create a more safe and peaceful future for all people
And, of course, most leaders round the world think exactly like that about sovereignty themselves:
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. (Applause.)
They like talking directly to Washington rather than being bored to death in ‘international’ meetings or ghastly EU ‘summits’. It may or may not lead to anything, but it’s good to be treated as something special!
Otherwise President Trump’s language is striking for its abrupt lapses into unabashed old-time sentimentality. See his use of the word beautiful, not an adjective that crops up often in the UNGA methinks:
Those three beautiful pillars — they’re pillars of peace, sovereignty, security, and prosperity
This is the beautiful vision of this institution, and this is foundation for cooperation and success
The greatest in the United States Constitution is its first three beautiful words: “We the people”
We know it kidnapped a sweet 13-year-old Japanese girl from a beach in her own country to enslave her as a language tutor for North Korea’s spies
And he uses almost zany language when referring to people he does not like much:
The United States and our allies are working together throughout the Middle East to crush the loser terrorists
Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime
Major portions of the world are in conflict and some, in fact, are going to hell
This creates a powerful if idiosyncratic rhetorical effect.
His language on Venezuela is just excellent:
The socialist dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro has inflicted terrible pain and suffering on the good people of that country. This corrupt regime destroyed a prosperous nation by imposing a failed ideology that has produced poverty and misery everywhere it has been tried …
I ask every country represented here today to be prepared to do more to address this very real crisis. We call for the full restoration of democracy and political freedoms in Venezuela (Applause)
The problem in Venezuela is not that socialism has been poorly implemented, but that socialism has been faithfully implemented (Applause)
Wait … what?? A US President attacking head-on communist collectivist thinking! At the UN of all places? Disgraceful! Whatever next? *swoons*
This next one is all-important as a statement of deterrence doctrine:
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
I’ll do a separate posting on that.
A fascinating and on the whole rather good speech. Its whole philosophical emphasis is indeed on cooperation between proud patriotic ‘nations’ with some almost Nietzschean overtones:
Now we are calling for a great reawakening of nations, for the revival of their spirits, their pride, their people, and their patriotism.
History is asking us whether we are up to the task. Our answer will be a renewal of will, a rediscovery of resolve, and a rebirth of devotion …
This is the true vision of the United Nations, the ancient wish of every people, and the deepest yearning that lives inside every sacred soul.
This way of expressing things is about as far from Obama-esque syrupy multilateralism as it’s possible to get in mere words.
How far will it make much difference in practice? Maybe not so much?