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The United Nations braces for Donald Trump’s second appearance

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Donald Trump United Nations address speech
Donald
Trump addresses the United Nations General Assembly at UN
headquarters, September 19, 2017 in New York
City.

Drew Angerer/Getty
Images


  • Next week Donald J. Trump returns to the United Nations
    for the annual opening of the UN General
    Assembly.
  • While Trump exceeded expectations during his first
    UN appearance last year, he will face more pushback this time
    around.
  • Next week, the president will encounter a more
    skeptical global audience, woke to the reality that his
    administration’s diplomacy is all take and no give.

The world will be on tenterhooks
next week when Donald J. Trump returns to the United Nations,
reprising his role as an America-First bull in the globalist
china shop.

After a surprisingly smooth 2017,
US relations with the world body have deteriorated, thanks to
hardline positions on Iran, the Human Rights Council, and
Palestine. The administration’s unilateralism is wearing thin, as
member states tire of America’s browbeating and unwillingness to
compromise.

The president is discovering the limitations of his
hyper-nationalist, unilateral approach to diplomacy, which
provides few incentives for other countries to align themselves
with American purposes.

Leadership, it turns out,
requires followers.

A year ago, in his maiden
appearance before the annual opening of the UN General Assembly
(UNGA), the President exceeded expectations. These were
admittedly low: in the previous months, he had withdrawn from the
historic Paris climate agreement, approved a budget to slash UN
funding, and appointed a UN envoy, Nikki Haley, who


promised to “take
names”


of countries
that thwarted US aims.


United Nations Council
A
year ago, the President exceeded admittedly low expectations at
the UN General Assembly.

Drew
Angerer/Getty Images


To the relief of his UN audience, Trump declared himself prepared
to help the UN live up to its potential. He aligned himself with
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ UN reform agenda, even
co-hosting a meeting
of member states on that
topic.

He also won plaudits from UN
delegations by dispensing with shopworn presidential rhetoric
about American exceptionalism and for


invoking the principle of
sovereignty


— a word
he used twenty-one times in his


speech

to the General Assembly — as the ultimate
foundation of world order.

Getting down to brass tacks, the
president


declared

: “I will always put America first, just like
you, as the leaders of your countries will always, and should
always, put your countries first.” This was the president’s
biggest applause line. It suggested that America First was
compatible with inter-governmental cooperation among sovereign,
self-interested, independent states.

Next week, the president will encounter a more skeptical
global audience, woke to the reality that his administration’s
diplomacy is all take and no give.

During the past year, the United
States has repudiated the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action
(JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear program, over the entreaties of its
closest allies. It has defected from the UN Human Rights Council,
allowing the world’s foxes free rein in that henhouse.

It has unilaterally moved the US
embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, while


ham-handedly
threatening


UN member
states with the temerity to condemn that decision in the General
Assembly. It has ended funding for the UN agency that supports
Palestinian refugees, while planning to eject the Palestinian
embassy from Washington.


Nikki Haley
Last year, the
administration suggested that “America First” was compatible with
inter-governmental cooperation — next week, the president will
encounter a more skeptical global audience.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

It has embraced discrimination and protectionism, embarking on a
trade war with China and even hinting that it may leave the World
Trade Organization. Finally, it has launched an all-out
assault
on the
International Criminal Court, to which more than half of UN
member states belong.

This month, the United States
holds the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council. In an
unprecedented development, Council members


could not even agree

on a program of work, given
disagreement over whether to include a discussion on the
deteriorating political situation in Nicaragua.

More provocatively, the United
States has


scheduled a special
session


on September
26 — which President Trump himself will chair — on “Iran’s
violations of international law,” including its destabilizing
regional activities. As Haley explains, the president is “very
adamant” about holding Iranians accountable and forcing them “to
stand up and explain themselves.”

No doubt this will make good
theater, particularly if Iran’s delegation shows up, as protocol
allows. But it will likely backfire diplomatically, underscoring
American rather than Iranian isolation. Even allies Britain and
France, still committed to the JCPOA, oppose the meeting.

The final red flag concerns
personnel changes within the Trump administration. This time last
year, “nationalists” and “globalists” were vying for ascendancy
within the White House. Today the former are triumphant.


trump UN
As
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley explains, the
president is “very adamant” about holding Iranians accountable
and forcing them “to stand up and explain
themselves.”

Lucas
Jackson/Reuteres


The
uber-sovereigntist
John Bolton, who openly disdains the UN, has
replaced the pragmatist H.R. McMaster as National Security
Advisor. Bolton has long advocated treating all US financial
contributions to the UN — including legally binding, annual
assessments to its regular and peacekeeping budgets — as
purely
voluntary. Besides violating international law, such a
step would create financial havoc for the world body.

All of these trends could well
make life impossible for Antonio Guterres, who has skillfully
cultivated working relationships with Trump, Haley, and
internationalist members of Congress. That would be a tragedy.
Guterres is as good a UN Secretary-General as Washington could
hope for. The former leader of a democratic ally (Portugal), he
is committed to


pragmatic reform

of the UN’s budgetary and
management systems, peacekeeping operations, and development
programs. Critically, he possesses credibility across the UN
membership.

The Trump administration’s
belligerent style could well upend Guterres fragile balancing
act, however, forcing him to choose between the UN’s wealthiest
and most powerful nation and other UN members, forever anxious
that the secretary-general will become America’s lackey.

Almost two years into the America First era, the United
States is reaping the consequences of abdicating global
leadership and retreating into narrow-minded
nationalism.

One of the casualties of US
conduct, as Gutteres


lamented

last week, is American “soft power.” Other UN
member states no longer look to the United States as a natural
leader, or even a reliable partner. They have tired of Trump’s
my-way-or-the-highway act and are increasingly hitting the road —
or looking to China to fill the vacuum left by the US
retreat.

Unless the president offers a
more positive UN agenda, grounded in a shared multilateral
purpose, America’s loss of diplomatic leverage and global
influence will only continue.
      


Stewart Patrick is James H.
Binger senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the
author of “The Sovereignty Wars: Reconciling America with the
World” (Brookings Press, 2018).

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