Red meat met UN blue. President Trump came to the United Nations Tuesday, his maiden voyage before the international body he has long criticized, with a reputation for plain talk and far-reaching language — the kind of talk rarely heard in UN hallways.
He did not disappoint. Teleprompter Donald Trump met domestic speech-giving Donald Trump. He brought to the UN floor scorching language usually reserved for his domestic audiences — or perhaps Twitter.
His speech called North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un a “rocket man” leading a “depraved regime” on a “suicide mission” and labeled the Iran nuclear deal “an embarrassment” of an agreement about which the world had not yet heard the last. And he said that certain parts of the world facing conflict were “going to hell.”
On North Korea, Trump said that if the regime does not comply with the international community, “we have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.”
He also said, “We are renewing our commitment to the first duty of every government, the duty of our citizens.” And that is why the tough talk took such strong hold Tuesday.
Trump has long seen both Iran and North Korea — and especially the former — as threats to the US, and he has not been shy in saying so. Tuesday’s speech was a step onto the global stage with themes long heard in Iowa, Ohio, Wisconsin and beyond.
The speech seemed to rouse only silence from his audience, as little applause could be heard. But this reaction could not have been a surprise for the White House, which brought its notebook of “America First” ideas to a global body where member states might think of their nation first, but rarely say it. At least not that directly, or openly.
Even for those who hoped otherwise, the tough talk from Trump should not have been a shock. President Trump has a vision of US foreign policy that has been influenced by his team of generals — especially Defense Secretary James Mattis — but not entirely shaped by it. On Afghanistan, which came up in the UN speech, the Trump administration’s new policy puts no timelines on American engagement.
Indeed, Trump’s Afghanistan speech this summer included a commitment to staying in the country, which some State Department and many Afghan officials had long sought from previous administrations. And on Syria and the fight against ISIS, US military officials have sought and now received more authority to make on-the-ground decisions, including adding US trainers to support Syrian Kurdish and Arab forces the US is backing — forces that Turkey sees as terrorists.
But the overall tone and theme of President Trump’s remarks at the UN cohered around a push for renewed nationalism in service to international stability. This was a call for nations to band together as “patriots” and to do what all good leaders do: “put their interests first.”
A bilateral man addressed a multilateral world. And he left knowing neither is likely to change.