Published 10:06 PM EDT Sep 25, 2018
The world's greatest problems — be they climate disruption, terrorism, the spread of nuclear weapons, trade disputes or flows of refugees — require international solutions. That is one of the foundational premises behind the United Nations.
On Tuesday, in his second annual address to the U.N. General Assembly, President Donald Trump took a verbal sledgehammer to that foundation, laying out his go-it-alone, America First doctrine of foreign policy.
Trump's subdued paean to self-interest generated an at times icy response from the assembled world leaders and ministers. The audience even laughed when the president boasted that he has accomplished "more than almost any administration in the history of our country."
Evangelizing under the gauzy rubric of "sovereignty" and self-interest, Trump depicted a brutalist world in which trading partners are ripping each other off and other nations are playing the United States for suckers. In his sustained attack on globalism, the president:
►Proudly hailed his decision in May to unilaterally withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement, even though the accord was preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and Tehran was in compliance. In disagreement with all of his international partners, Trump reinstated U.S. sanctions against Tehran, incongruously explaining Tuesday that "we cannot allow (Iran) to possess the world's most dangerous weapons."
►Trash-talked the World Trade Organization, a two-decade-old forum for settling trade disputes, and the International Criminal Court, formed in 2002 to prosecute cases of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
►Bemoaned the Syrian refugee crisis flooding neighboring countries with millions of the displaced, even as he took America out of a U.N. global compact for managing the world's migration crisis.
►Pledged U.S. commitment to peace and stability in the Middle East, while boasting of his unilateral decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a move for which the United States received nothing in exchange that might have moved the peace process forward.
About the only welcome part of Trump's speech was that he didn't repeat last year's threat to totally destroy North Korea and its dictator, "rocket man" Kim Jong Un. Trump's campaign of maximum pressure succeeded in bringing Kim to the bargaining table. While the diplomatic approach has lessened tensions on the Korean Peninsula, it has yielded little more than vaguely worded promises to disarm.
Trump's America First rhetoric undoubtedly plays well with his conservative base, but whether it is producing a safer and better world is highly doubtful. After 20 months in office, the president has shown himself far more adept at blowing up his predecessors' international agreements than at replacing them with something better.
If you can't see this reader poll, please refresh your page.