In a bellicose debut speech to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, President Donald Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea and mockingly referred to Kim Jong-un as “Rocket Man on a suicide mission”. The 41-minute address, in which he lashed out at a succession of US adversaries, constituted a “muscular defence” of American sovereignty, says Chris Cillizza on CNN.com.
It was a “warning shot” to rogue nations as well as a “reminder that the US would no longer make deals not in its own self-interest”. In short, the speech was “Trumpian”.
The UN “may never have heard anything quite like it,” says Edward Luce in the Financial Times. Where previous US presidents have called for the spread of democracy, Trump promoted his vision of a world of “strong, sovereign nations” in which each country would “look first to its own interests”. It wasn’t only North Korea that was put “on notice”.
He described Iran as a “corrupt dictatorship” and hinted at pulling the US out of the six-nation Iran nuclear deal, which he described as an “embarrassment”.
He singled out Venezuela and Cuba for their human rights violations and implicitly criticised China and Russia by saying he rejected “threats to sovereignty, from Ukraine to the South China Sea”.
Much of his speech was met by “stony silence”, notes Julian Borger in The Guardian, though the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was one of the few to applaud Trump’s remarks about Iran and issued a statement shortly afterwards, saying he had “never heard a bolder… speech” at the UN. Ambassadors were “squirming in their seats” as Trump lambasted America’s enemies and some, including North Korea’s UN ambassador, walked out before Trump had uttered a word.
But it was the reaction of John Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff, that attracted most comment. In one photograph he had his head in his hand. “John Kelly apparently went through some sort of existential crisis during Trump’s UN speech,” says Kyle Feldscher of The Washington Examiner.
Trump’s “threats to obliterate North Korea” grabbed the headlines, but his address actually provided the “most cogent account yet” of his views on foreign policy, says Rhys Blakely in The Times. He argued that the Iranian people do not want their nation’s “oil wealth spent on terror”, and he “may be right”.
On North Korea, he implicitly acknowledged that the world has no good military options when he called out China for trading with a country that “imperils the world”. The core of his speech was nationalistic, yet he was “strikingly respectful” of the UN as an institution. His warning that “if the righteous many don’t confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph” was “Reagan-esque”.
For years, Trump has “nurtured a love-hate relationship” with the UN, saying it is “not a friend of democracy… not a friend to freedom” and slamming it as weak, incompetent and bureaucratic, says Richard Gowan in Politico. But the North Korea crisis has “forced him to take it seriously”. In the past two months, the US has persuaded China and Russia to agree to “two hefty packages of sanctions”.
They may not work, but for now, America’s only way to “stave off military action and keep China and Russia engaged” is by working through the Security Council. “The net result is that a president who once promised a unilateralist, or outright isolationist, foreign policy is leaning hard on the world’s main multilateral body to manage the main crisis on his agenda.”
…but softens up on immigrants and the wall
President Donald Trump has “generated ripples of doubt” among his anti-immigration supporters, says Tom McCarthy in The Guardian. One of Trump’s campaign promises was to build a wall along the US border with Mexico, but he has now said that would “come later”.
And at a “cosy White House” dinner with House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer last Wednesday, he reportedly agreed to sign legislation protecting roughly 800,000 so-called Dreamers – migrants on the Deferred Action for Children Arrivals (Daca) programme who arrived in the US as children.
Trump’s position seems “eminently reasonable, and a political winner”, says Lloyd Green in the same paper. Dreamers are popular with the American public of all political stripes. However, a “hard line on immigration is what got Trump elected, plain and simple”, and “giving a quid without receiving a pro quo in return” makes a mockery of his reputation as a deal-maker.
What’s more, he has just agreed to a Democratic debt ceiling that “astounded his fellow Republicans with its leniency”, says Emily Shugerman in The Independent. Relations with the two Republican Congressional leaders, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, neither of whom have confirmed they are indeed “on board, as the president said”, will become increasingly strained.
It remains to be seen how “concrete or indeed feasible” Trump’s deal on the Dreamers is, says Josh Glancy in The Times, but what does this all mean? Is this the moment when Trump, who “has never had strong party affiliation, unmoors himself almost entirely from the Republican party and becomes the freewheeling deal-maker he longs to be”?
Alternatively, this could be “just another piece of erratic ephemera from a man more interested in… good headlines than actually governing”. Given his previously hard-right position on immigration, “you could forgive Republicans for being confused”. But Washington has learned to “wait and see”.