Trump's First UN General Assembly Speech Brought His "America First" Rhetoric To The World Stage
The more limited role of the United States in the world was explained Tuesday at the United Nations, when President Trump gave his first speech addressing world leaders at the global body. Trump went with the goal of having other countries take up more of the slack on global issues, particularly with "rogue regimes" like North Korea. This was part of a theme of putting America first internationally — essentially trying to argue that the country shouldn't have to take on such a big role in the international space, be it militarily, with diplomacy, or even funding the United Nations.
Trump started off speaking about how great the United States is doing, noting that the economy and job growth were at all time highs, despite the fact that job growth has slowed in recent months. He also praised the arm services. “Our military will soon be the strongest it has ever been," Trump said. He lauded other advances in technology and then transitioned to the bleaker part of his speech, saying, "We meet at a time of both immense promise and great peril."
So on to the peril — much of which was dominated by North Korea. He quoted his Twitter jab of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and said, “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for him and his regime." He accused unnamed countries of empowering North Korea by doing business with them, and then delivered an ultimatum. "The United States has great strength and patience, but if it's forced to defend itself and its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea." He added that he hopes it's not necessary, noting that this is what the UN is for and thanking those who voted towards sanctions.
Trump also focused on another "regime," later in his speech, Iran. "Rather than use its resources to improve Iranian lives, its oil profits go to fund Hezbollah," Trump said, adding that the country supports leaders like Syria's Bashar al-Assad. Its opposition to the state of Israel was also underlined several times.
Most telling about the United States’ future position with the country, he openly criticized the Iranian nuclear deal made under Obama that ended their pursuit of nuclear weapons in exchange for removing Western sanctions. "Frankly that deal is an embarrassment to the United States,” Trump said. “It is time for the entire world to join us in demanding that Iran’s government end its pursuit of death and destruction,” he added.
Trump also focused part of his speech on the goal to "crush the loser terrorists" and prevent the development safe havens where terrorist can plot their attacks on the West. Finally, rounding up his list of bad actors were Cuba and Venezuela, with a specific attack on what he called socialism. He said that the opening that Obama promised with Cuba was off and criticized the reforms in Venezuela under Nicolas Maduro that are threatening the country's democracy.
The other two big parts of his speech tie directly into the America first policy goals. One was on migration and refugees. Immediately after declaring that "the United States is a compassionate nation," Trump criticized the current resettlement programs — or "uncontrolled migration" as he put it. He argued it is a problem for both sending and receiving countries. Studies in the United States, however, show the government actually comes out ahead financially with refugees.
Finally, Trump tried to make the case for the United States to contribute less to the UN, arguing that "the United States bears an unfair cost burden." He noted that investment would "easily be well worth it" if the UN could deliver peace and prosperity around the world. But then he seemed to point the finger at diplomates for every issue around the world.
"The powerful people in this room ... can solve many of these vicious and complex problems," Trump said. Trump went on to say that he hopes the UN can be more accountable and a better advocate for human dignity and freedom around the world. "But in the meantime," Trump thinks it's unfair that the United States foot the bill.
While he seems to have pushed for what he sees as the United States' best interest, he also suggested that other leaders do the same. "As president, I will always put America first, just like you as the leaders of your countries will always — and should always — put your countries first," he said. So if any other countries raise their hand to pay more, solve the North Korea problem, or resettle a million immigrants, it will be in their self interest, at least as the president sees it.