President Trump began his first speech before the U.N. General Assembly with a somber nod to the institution’s idealistic founding “in the aftermath of two world wars.” Then he threatened to start another one, with North Korea.
Trump commandeered the U.N. General Assembly stage in New York on Tuesday, giving a 41-minute barn-burner that sounded more like a collection of his best weekend tweets than a formal announcement of a new American foreign policy doctrine.
In fact, any discernible Trump doctrine was hard to find. In its place was a list of complaints.
Trump lambasted his predecessor’s landmark Iran nuclear deal as an “embarrassment to the United States;” railed against Islamic extremism; warned of “international criminal networks,” drugs and “mass migration” threatening “our borders;” and offered little in the way of shared values or dedication to human rights.
More often than not, the speech, given before an institution founded on shared values and alliances, signaled American isolation over international leadership.
“The success of the United Nations depends upon the independent strength of its members,” Trump said pointedly. “Our success depends on a coalition of strong and independent nations that embrace their sovereignty, to promote security, prosperity, and peace, for themselves and for the world.”
Below are the major takeaways from Trump’s big, anti-U.N. speech before the U.N.
Trump began his speech by touting American economic successes and boasting about American military prowess.
“It has just been announced that we will be spending almost $700 billion on our military and defense,” Trump said, his voice getting louder as if he were expecting applause. “Our military will soon be the strongest it has ever been.”
“In fact, our country has achieved more against ISIS in the last eight months than it has in many, many years combined,” Trump said, though it wasn’t exactly clear what the achievements were and what “many years” meant, considering the U.S. has only officially been at war with the Islamic State group since 2014.
Trump then urged world leaders to strengthen their own countries above others and shore up for the possibility of conflict.
“I will always put America first, just like you, the leaders of your countries, should put your countries first,” Trump said.
Sounding eerily like the speech George W. Bush gave in 2001 when he declared his War on Terror, Trump then turned to the reliable platitudes of good and evil.
“If the righteous many do not confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph,” Trump said. “When decent people and nations become bystanders to history, the forces of destruction only gather power and strength.”
Calling Pyongyang “depraved” and “twisted,” Trump threatened the outright destruction of North Korea — home to some 25 million people — after the hermit kingdom’s recent ramp-up of missile tests.
“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,” Trump said. “Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”
Trump soon turned his attention to Iran, calling the Rouhani government “a corrupt dictatorship,” “a depleted rogue state,” and “a murderous regime.”
Trump also chastised the Iranian nuclear deal, complaining the U.S. had gotten the worse end of the bargain.
“The Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into,” Trump said. “Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States, and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it. Believe me.”
Trump’s comments exacerbate existing speculation that the landmark deal — one his own secretary of state supports — is on the brink of collapse.
France’s foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned against letting the deal end and urged all parties hold up their part of the agreement. “It’s essential to maintain it to prevent a spiral of proliferation that would encourage hard-liners in Iran to pursue nuclear weapons,” Le Drian told reporters Tuesday.
Soon after calling the U.S. “a compassionate nation,” Trump defended his stance on curbing the number of refugees allowed to enter the U.S., saying the U.S. could do more with its money by settling them in nearby countries.
“For the cost of resettling one refugee in the United States, we can assist more than 10 in their home region,” Trump said.
“Out of the goodness of our hearts, we offer financial assistance to hosting countries in the region and we support recent agreements of the G-20 nations that will seek to host refugees as close to their home countries as possible,” Trump added.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that Trump administration officials had rejected an internal study by the Department of Health and Human Services that found refugees created $63 billion in government revenue over the last 10 years. The report starkly undermines the administration’s justification for a refugee cap, which is based on claims that refugees drain government resources.
Human rights and international aid
Human rights and global aid were side notes in Trump’s speech, with the U.S. president mainly using the topics as a platform to celebrate American success, or decry the failure of the U.N.
“The United States continues to lead the world in humanitarian assistance, including famine prevention and relief, in South Sudan, Somalia, and northern Nigeria and Yemen.”
But Trump also used the issue of human rights failures to ding at the institution he was addressing, saying the U.N. had been hijacked by “states that seek to subvert this institution’s noble end.”
“For example,” Trump said, “it is a massive source of embarrassment to the United Nations that some governments with egregious human rights records sit on the UN Human Rights Council.”
Trump’s 2018 budget proposal slashes civilian international affairs funding by 31 percent, directly reducing American contributions to the UN, the World Bank, and global aid programs.
The “unfair cost burden” on the U.S.
Having spoken about aid and the billions of dollars the U.S. gives to the UN, Trump complained the U.S. was taking a disproportionate share of the burden and that countries should take a “greater role” in securing their regions.
“We pay far more than anybody realizes,” Trump said. “The United States bears an unfair cost burden, but to be fair, if it could actually accomplish all of its stated goals, especially the goal of peace, this investment would easily be well worth it.”