In his recent U.N. speech, President Trump offered his vision for America’s place in the world.
Nobody was surprised that his words echoed U.S. policy in the decades before the outbreak of World War II. Perhaps this was how to “make America great again” — return to the years when the country was a world power that chose isolation until it was attacked.
The core of his outlook is that the U.S. supports “independence and cooperation” over “global governance.” Trump’s America should avoid agreements and organizations that affect national sovereignty.
“Sovereign and independent nations are the only vehicle where freedom has ever survived,” he declared. Other countries follow the American approach. He promised that “the United States will not tell you how to live or work or worship.”
The U.S. would remain a major player in world affairs, but usually by going it alone. He listed one example after another where he had led the country away from multilateral approaches toward independent action by the U.S.
Like other leaders, he is opposes Iran’s aggressive behavior in the Middle East. He continues to complain that when the Iran nuclear deal was signed, Iran regained access to its own funds held in the U.S. He considered that money “a windfall” Iran could use to finance its aggression.
Other countries are working together to try to keep the nuclear deal alive so that Iran, now subject to international inspection, is banned for more than a decade from developing nuclear weapons.
Though he said other countries should assert their own sovereign interests, he clearly signaled American opposition to actions they might take.
The U.S. seeks to force other countries to sharply reduce oil purchases from Iran. In effect, they are under American pressure to adopt U.S. policy, not their own approach to Iran.
On North Korea, Trump expressed satisfaction with the initial results of his direct talks with Kim Jung-un. He ignored the difference between North Korea, which still develops nuclear weapons without inspections, while Iran does not.
“All nations of the world should resist socialism,” he said. But what if they wanted a greater role for government without Venezuelan-style dictatorship?
American funding of defense elsewhere should be replaced by money from the countries on the front lines, he said. Defense policy is a matter of reducing American dollars spent abroad. The traditional policy said that helping defend other countries kept conflict from America’s shores.
Trumps’ concept of trade means that no country should have a favorable balance with the U.S. To force others to buy American goods, the U.S. erects barriers to imports from others. Higher consumer costs and lower profits are a price worth paying for greater sovereignty.
On the environment and climate change, Trump said nothing. Last week, his EPA reported that temperatures are rising faster and farther than previously forecast, but said there was no point in trying to reduce or prevent that change. Global warming is inevitable, it implied, so why make futile gestures.
The American media gave only fleeting coverage to Trump’s speech, except to note the General Assembly laughter at his campaign-style boasting, an international first. They gave more coverage to the latest human interest story. And the media ignored French President Emmanuel Macron’s response to Trump.
He clearly saw the need for countries not only to cooperate as separate parties but to work together. And he directly challenged Trump for trying to torpedo the Iran deal and for quitting international efforts to fight climate change.
Trump’s policy in resolving the Israel-Palestine problem is to squeeze the Palestinians as hard as possible to force them to negotiate on Israel’s terms. He has cut American funding for the U.N. agency providing education and health care to Palestinians.
Macron’s answer was that France would step up its funding of this agency. Trump’s action and Macron’s response is a sign that countries are beginning to pick policies to support off a sort of world menu. Trump expressly announced that would be the American approach to the U.N.
The French president rejected any thought that Trump’s change of course was only temporary. He saw American foreign policy as being “the law of the strongest.”
He charged that it was an attack on “universal values,” the principles on which are countries have been thought to agree: supporting human rights, fighting poverty and promoting the prosperity of all.
Where the new American vision leads remains unknown. Past policies centered on national rights and a la carte “cooperation” have the unfortunate history of leading to conflict and even to war.