Trump Goes on Stage
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
If only one really understood Trump better. Never have Heads of State and chief delegates at the United Nations wondered what the President of the United States would say when he addressed the General Assembly as they did today. The media as well as the wide-world media throughout waited with baited breath for what Trump would say. Already on Monday the BBC had gone live when Trump appeared at the General Assembly for merely the opening event.
After he spoke, few were surprised. He had articulated what he wanted the U.S. relationship to be towards the international organization; but it was nothing new. His remarks on North Korea and Iran were blunt, but no one knew what was truly behind his words. Trump loved every moment as assembled delegates milled around wondering how does this translate into policy. They watched the political novice and diplomatic neophyte in action; serious and determined, but to do what? The America First slogan rang out again but to what end or goal? This scene undoubtedly went straight to Trump’s head but the question remained as to what does this dynamic indicate about how he sees America’s role in the world. The political posturing and gamesmanship may well be fun for the President but it certainly confronts America’s place in the world.
Stephen Miller wrote a strong speech for the President, but as so much at the U.N., it was only words. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. As this drama was unfolding in Turtle Bay, there are all kinds of signals that maybe President Trump in his actions is not really so out of the mainstream. He has problems with the Iran agreement but he has more issues with Obama’s having achieved something which drive him to want to dismantle or at least modify it. If Iran agrees to permit the IAEA tighter and heighten inspection, Trump will proclaim a win. Even on climate change and the Paris Accords, Trump may be easing up on his determination to exit, if he can modify some of the terms.
Trump is feels he is being humiliated by North Korea. Calling Kim Jong Un “Rocket Man” was reducing his adversary to a comic book character. This is classic Trump style. No one should assume that Trump is contemplating a policy to “totally destroy North Korea” unless there is a much more clear provocation. In all likelihood these were some of the additions which Trump put into Miller’s draft.
Trump wants to spend less resources on the U.N. Its bureaucratic excesses have been a thorn in the eye of Congress for years. Reducing the size of the U.S. delegation to the U.N. was symbolic. The cost of the family’s trip to Mar-a-Lago for Thanksgiving will exceed the savings from this U.N. trip many times over. What ought to be of concern is that the staffing at Foggy Bottom is still not near capacity.
The bottom line is that Trump’s visit to the U.N. could have been a total disaster and it was not. Trump will feel good and that is really what he likes about being President; being flattered; winning; and excessive pomp. How this all will affect America’s role in the world and the conduct of U.S. foreign policy in the days and weeks ahead remains unclear—at best.