The U.N. General Assembly has long been a platform for the president of the United States to call for cooperation among member states to be aware of and respond to the greatest threats to international security, whether it be terrorism, climate change, epidemic diseases, or even a fellow member state, as with Iraq in 2002.
Enter Donald Trump.
Trump’s address on Tuesday began with a call for nationalism. He called for countries to put their own interests first, take pride in their national identities, and cherish their distinguished histories. As if that were not bad enough, Trump called out “globalism” as a problem. “If you want peace,” he added, “love your country.” Never mind that the U.N. itself was created as a response to World War II, which happened some people loved their countries a little too much.
Trump came close to outlining what he deems to be threats to international security from Iran, North Korea, social media giants, and especially China. All fair and good (maybe except the social media giants part, but that’s beside the point). But each time that he mentioned one of them, he immediately turned to explaining what his administration had done to address these issues, rather than calling for cooperation as one might expect.
While he mentioned “partners” a few times, the only time he called for a partnership to solve an ongoing threat was in regard to illegal immigration. You know, something he sees as a problem for the United States.
Then, he returned to call for sovereignty and nationalism (without using the term directly). Whatever one’s views on nationalism, it is a fair question to ask why the president of the United States would use a platform that is designed for addressing international concerns to call for an end to internationalism.
Mostly, it sounded like a re-election campaign speech. When he mentioned the threat posed by China, for instance, he talked about his tariff policy without asking other countries to follow the suit on pressuring China.
Sovereignty is necessary, and the U.N. is indeed an organization in desperate need for reform. Overreach by international governmental organizations is a real problem. But the UNGA is a place to address shared concerns and ask for cooperation among nations to address those challenges. Or at least it should be. The problem is that even when it comes to foreign policy, Trump thinks every speech is a campaign rally. And we’re only getting closer to 2020.