Donald Trump got his first official presidential look at the United Nations yesterday — and the UN got its first official look at Trump, too. He’ll speak at the General Assembly for the first time at roughly 10:30 this morning, but Trump started off a week of intense diplomacy by demanding significant reform at the UN. Their history has been mainly one of disappointment and “mismanagement,” Trump told them in his first speech at a session on reform, but the potential remains to “make the United Nations great. Not again,” Trump emphasized:
Trump began several days of diplomacy at the United Nations with a session Monday devoted to reforming the institution — a theme during his outsider presidential campaign and a key demand of some of his conservative supporters. The focus on reducing bureaucracy lent a critical tone to Trump’s debut.
In brief opening remarks, he said the United Nations had not lived up to its billing upon its creation in 1945, asserting that it suffered from a bloated bureaucracy and “mismanagement.” Trump urged his fellow leaders to make reforms aimed at “changing business as usual,” but pledged that his administration would be “partners in your work.”
“Make the United Nations great,” the president told reporters when asked about his message this week, riffing off his campaign slogan. “Not again. Make the United Nations great. Such tremendous potential, and I think we’ll be able to do this.”
White House aides said the address would be consistent with Trump’s foreign policy speeches this year in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he challenged other nations to do more in the global fight against terrorism, and in Warsaw, where he warned that Western civilization was under attack.
According to multiple sources, Trump’s vision of reform at the UN starts with a recognition of the role national sovereignty plays in global security. Roll Call’s John T. Bennett reports that Trump has worked long and hard on today’s address, which will focus on a policy of “principled realism” in foreign relations, where nations act in self-interest and common interest. The point appears to be a reminder to the UN that they are a multilateral diplomatic forum and not a world government:
American allies reportedly are still struggling to fully understand Trump’s “America first” governing philosophy — and what it means for how it will shape foreign policy. Some of his top aides often say “America first” does not mean America alone, and the president will have an opportunity to reassure Washington’s longtime friends when he addresses the United Nations General Assembly for the first time.
White House aides say Trump knows his UN address is a major moment for his presidency. That’s why he has spent “a lot of time crafting [and] fine tuning” his remarks, a senior administration official said Monday.
The senior official said the address will be based on “principled realism,” which is the term White House aides often use to describe Trump’s foreign policy philosophy. In large part, it is rooted in a belief that countries must be “more sovereign,” as the senior official said Monday.
Translation, according to Bennett: “The US is out of the nation-building business.” America will go its own way and will be happy to let others do the same — as long as they respect the sovereignty of other nations, especially the US. That has some human-rights implications that may make our allies nervous and other nations gleeful, but given the shameful appointment of oppressive states to the UN’s human-rights panels, it hardly makes any difference, at least at Turtle Bay. North Korea will be used as an example of what happens when that respect is absent and people make threats against the US and its sovereign territories.
On reform, Trump had better decide whether to enforce this call by cutting off funds, or be content to just remind the UN of the necessity of change. A “principled realism” based on the primacy of national sovereignty would tend to limit the UN’s influence anyway, a point which will not be lost on the member states this week. If US engagement at Turtle Bay declines significantly, the influence of the smaller member states will decline as well. Perhaps that might be enough to get them to act on reforming the corruption and bloat within the UN. At least, it’s a solution that hasn’t yet been tried.
Trump will speak at 10:30 am, if the schedule holds, which it usually doesn’t. Here’s the live stream for the General Assembly, courtesy of ABC News, which started at the beginning of the session.