Trump at UN General Assembly Provokes Anger and Laughter

Interview with D. Parvaz, global politics reporter with Think Progress, conducted by Scott Harris

In September 2017, when U.S. President Donald Trump first addressed the annual meeting the United Nation’s General Assembly, he threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea and attacked a number of U.S. adversaries across the globe. Trump’s caustic remarks were no surprise to world leaders who had observed this president’s strange and disturbing behavior since he was sworn into office in January 2017.  In his second address before the UN General Assembly this year on Sept. 25, Trump spoke about his rejection of “globalism,” a reference to the UN’s multilateral approach of bringing nations together to address global crises.  Instead, Trump promoted his own vague brand of “patriotism,” known to his political base by the slogan, “America First.”
Trump was characteristically antagonistic to friend and foe alike, with threats to impose new tariffs and sanctions as part of his current trade war. The president’s accusations against China for what he claimed were plans to subvert the upcoming U.S. midterm congressional elections were met with anger and derision. When Trump addressed the UN Security Council about his decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Iran nuclear agreement, virtually all nations present rejected Trump’s position and spoke of their support for the Iran deal. 
During his address to the UN, when Trump claimed to have “accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country”, the hundreds of diplomats and government officials gathered broke into open laughter.  Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with D. Parvaz, global politics reporter with ThinkProgress, who assesses world reaction to Trump’s presence at this year’s UN General Assembly.
D. PARVAZ: Last year, President Trump took to the UN floor and then threatened to “totally destroy” a country of 22 million or so and annihilate them. And then this year, he actually said before the UN Security Council meeting – which we’ll get to in a second – that he’d gotten to know Chairman Kim, that he had begun to like him quite a bit.

This year at his general (assembly) speech, you know, the leaders get up and it’s hours of all the leaders speechifying. He spoke for about 30 minutes. He was a little late in arriving. So they had to go out of order in order to accommodate that. And he basically gave a rather spectacular speech in some sense in that it was a complete rebuke of globalism and multilateralism, which is, you know, the whole point of the UN for everybody to work together and he made it quite clear that the U.S. under his administration had no interest in that.

And it got into the weeds a little bit. He started talking about how the U.S. had only helped countries that did something for them, which completely flies in the face of what something like humanitarian aid is – which is what they’ve cut to millions of Palestinians, for example. You know, it was quite a jarring speech and everybody took note and subsequent leaders who spoke, such as French President Emmanuel Macron made a very pointed answer countering President Trump’s speech saying that, you know, the only way to move forward was to work with each other and that we should resist such sentiment. Even President Hassan Rouhani of Iran said the same thing: “A person who rejects multilateralism is not a strong person, but that doing so was” – I think he put it – “a symptom of a weak intellect.” And he never named President Trump, but everybody in the room knew exactly who he was talking about.

BETWEEN THE LINES: D. Parvez, I did want to ask you about Donald Trump’s refusal, along with the nation of Hungary, led by a right-wing government to sign a global compact on migrants and refugees. As you wrote in your article, you talk about 68.5 million people have been displaced across the globe due to conflicts and natural disasters and famine and all that. Tell us a little bit about this particular compact that Trump, along with Hungary, refused to sign.

D. PARVAZ: Very interesting company. So, basically, the Obama administration in 2016, presented his last UN summit in New York, launched this Refugee Summit. So basically he got all the world leaders to get together – whoever would sign up to it, that is – to pledge to make additional pledges, to either monetarily or, you know, in terms of hosting more refugees. And the other part of that was that the member states get together and come up with a more comprehensive plan to handle migrants and refugees. So the Trump administration is largely focused on dismantling anything that President Obama put together – that seems to be a primary focus.

And so, of course, they weren’t going to sign onto this now. This is extremely disappointing to the rest of the world, to other member states, to a global community. UNHCR (United Nations High Commission on Refugees) had a high-level panel on this. There was a United States representative present there. This person did not speak at all because what could they say? But yeah, it’s remarkable that the U.S. has kept company with a very staunchly and harshly anti-refugee and anti-migrant, very far right-wing government that even among right-wing governments in Europe is an outlier, which is Hungary and (Prime Minister) Viktor Orbán.

BETWEEN THE LINES: To sum it up, D. Parvaz, what would you say is the lasting result of this, an encounter between Trump and the nations of the world in New York last week?

D. PARVAZ: Well, I think that it’s just to make other nations more cautious and not in a good way. He’s not seen as the reliable, approachable leader, I don’t think. So, I think it damages any kind of like, trust or diplomatic sort of protocol built over decades between the U.S. as a leader in a number of these UN institutions and councils and the rest of the world. And you know, the member states – our allies, included.

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