President Donald Trump came to the United Nations this week as the “representative of the American people,” not as the “global citizen” that Barack Obama had portrayed himself to be. To paraphrase William Shakespeare, when Obama asked his global audiences to lend him their ears, he came to bury America under a heap of apologies for its alleged past misdeeds, not to praise his home country. President Trump could not have presented a starker contrast. He praised the U.S. Constitution, called out the miserable failures of socialism and confronted the totalitarian enemies of the United States, singling out radical Islamic terrorists and the rogue authoritarian regimes of North Korea, Iran and socialist Venezuela with a moral clarity reminiscent of former President Ronald Reagan.
During his inaugural visit to UN headquarters in New York for the annual convocation of world leaders, Trump delivered two speeches and held a series of high level bilateral meetings. His first speech, delivered at an event Monday on UN reform hosted by the United States, focused on the need for significant management reform at the UN. Trump criticized the UN for its bloated bureaucracy and mismanagement, while not producing results in line with the sharp increase in the UN budget, which is disproportionately funded by the United States. However, he included in his remarks some praise for the UN’s disaster relief efforts, its feeding of the hungry and UN Secretary General António Guterres’ own UN reform initiatives.
Trump’s second speech on Tuesday, delivered on the opening day of the General Assembly’s world leaders’ debate, was much tougher in tone. It focused on his notion of “principled realism” in international relations, balancing effective multilateralism to combat problems of global concern with the primacy of national sovereignty. The U.S. president explained his “American First” principles in some detail and put the rogue nations of North Korea, Iran and Venezuela on notice that their misdeeds would have serious consequences.
A globalist appeaser is clearly no longer in the White House.
“Our government’s first duty is to its people, to our citizens – to serve their needs, to ensure their safety, to preserve their rights, and to defend their values. I will always put America first – just like you – as the leaders of your countries will always – and should – always put your countries first,” the president declared. The success of the UN, he said, depends on the “independent strength” of its member states, built on each nation’s respect for the interests of its own people and for the rights of every other sovereign nation. “All responsible leaders have an obligation to serve their own citizens, and the nation-state remains the best vehicle for elevating the human condition,” he added.
America would do its fair share, continuing to “lead the world in humanitarian assistance,” the president assured the assembled dignitaries, and to shoulder the burden to protect freedom and security around the world without territorial ambitions. However, under his watch, President Trump would no longer allow the United States to be taken advantage of or enter into “a one-sided deal where the United States gets nothing in return.” This was not music to the ears of the self-important foreign leaders in attendance who have gotten used to exploiting UN globalist institutions on the US’s dime, while using forums provided by the UN to slander the United States and Israel.
Obama certainly won the popularity contest when he strutted onto the world stage year after year during his presidency to deliver his encomiums to global governance and to place the United States at the same level as all the other 192 member states of the United Nations, no matter how authoritarian they were or how little they contributed to the budget of the UN. Obama was treated like a celebrity, his speeches punctuated by frequent outbursts of rapturous applause. President Trump, on the other hand, came across during his General Assembly speech as the serious teacher, seeking to bring some sense and discipline to what he once referred to as “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.” The president reminded his audience of America’s unparalleled economic and military strength, rather than apologize for it as Obama so often did in front of foreign audiences.
Of particular note, Obama used his global platform at the UN General Assembly in 2012 to shamelessly declare that “the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.” Obama had more concern for the Islamists offended by an obscure anti-Muslim video than he did for the victims of terrorism. He refused to acknowledge the ideology that inspires and sanctions Jihad. President Trump, in contrast, used his global platform at the UN General Assembly to categorically declare that the United States “will stop radical Islamic terrorism because we cannot allow it to tear up our nation, and indeed to tear up the entire world.” The world must rally against “Islamist extremism,” he said, not wish it away or make excuses for it. In other words, the president named and labeled the ideology and movement now waging war on the Western world.
Obama praised his nuclear deal with Iran at the UN and anywhere else he thought would provide a sympathetic venue. He made sure it was endorsed in a UN Security Council resolution. President Trump called Obama’s Iran nuclear deal an “embarrassment” and “one of the worst and one-sided transactions the U.S. has ever entered into,” warning the General Assembly that “you haven’t heard the last on it, believe me.” He said the U.S. “cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program.” While Obama tried to normalize relations with the Iranian regime, even at the expense of the aspirations of its people beaten in the streets and tortured for their dissent, Trump called Iran a “rogue state” whose chief export is violence. He stated that the United States sided with the Iranian people, not their dictatorial regime. “The entire world understands that the good people of Iran want change, and, other than the vast military power of the United States, that Iran’s people are what their leaders fear the most,” the president said.
When Obama was president, he hosted a heads-of-state discussion of a nuclear-free world at a special session of the UN Security Council. Obama mentioned the two rogue countries with dangerous nuclear ambitions, Iran and North Korea, only once during his speech, but immediately added that “[T]his is not about singling out individual nations.” However, Trump is having none of such utopian fantasies. He affirmed: “North Korea’s reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles threatens the entire world with unthinkable loss of human life.” He warned the rogue regime, led by “Rocket Man” Kim Jong-un, in no uncertain terms, that it risked total destruction if it proceeded with its “suicide mission.”
Obama boasted of his diplomatic rapprochement with Cuba and shook hands with Venezuela’s late socialist dictator, Hugo Chavez. Trump criticized the “corruption and destabilizing regime” in Cuba and stated that his administration would not lift U.S. sanctions until the Cuban regime significantly changed its ways. As for the Venezuelan regime, the U.S. president noted the suffering of the Venezuelan people at the hands of a socialist dictatorship that “destroyed a prosperous nation by imposing a failed ideology that has produced poverty and misery everywhere it has been tried.”
America’s Commander-in-Chief criticized unaccountable globalist institutions that failed to keep faith with the people they were supposed to serve. Millions of people lost their jobs as a result of broken promises and gaming of the system, he said. “While America will pursue cooperation and commerce with other nations, we are renewing our commitment to the first duty of every government: the duty of our citizens,” he added.
The president believes in national sovereignty, but is not an isolationist, as his critics have unfairly charged. He spoke eloquently about the need for “proud independent nations” to “embrace their duties, seek friendship, respect others and make common cause in the greatest shared interest of all, a future of peace for the people of this wonderful earth.” He called for global resolve “to fight together, sacrifice together, and stand together for peace, for freedom, for justice, for family, for humanity, and for the almighty God who made us all.” But this means honestly confronting the evils present in our time – the authoritarian regimes who “seek to collapse the values, the systems, and alliances that prevented conflict and tilted the world toward freedom since World War II,” as well as radical Islamic terrorists who seek to spread their extremist ideology by force. “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.”
The last US. President who spoke with such moral clarity on the world stage was Ronald Reagan. Just as Reagan spoke about the evils of communism, Trump used Venezuela and Cuba as living proof that the discredited ideologies of socialism and communism “only contribute to the continued suffering of the people who live under these cruel systems.” It is the height of irony that when Venezuela’s foreign minister spoke to reporters after Trump’s General Assembly speech to complain about what he called President Trump’s “racist and supremacist” rhetoric, the foreign minister said that “for a moment we didn’t know if we were listening to President Reagan in 1982 or President Trump in 2017.”
For America’s sake and the world’s sake, President Trump would do well to continue channeling Ronald Reagan and to rectify the abysmal failures of the Obama foreign policy, which shamefully betrayed millions of persecuted people worldwide, crippled America’s strength and enabled its deadliest enemies.