Trump re­places Obama’s soft talk with big stick

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY BEN WOLFGANG

Pres­i­dent Obama ended his first speech to the United Na­tions with a call to re­spect uni­ver­sal rights and the U.N. it­self, say­ing all na­tions owed an obli­ga­tion to the in­ter­na­tional body.

Eight years later, Pres­i­dent Trump took a sledge­ham­mer to that frame­work, say­ing that it is the United Na­tions that needs to be re­formed and declar­ing that sovereignty of in­di­vid­ual na­tions must be a guid­ing prin­ci­ple.

The ap­proaches of the two pres­i­dents, an­a­lysts and law­mak­ers said af­ter Mr. Trump’s ad­dress, could not be more dif­fer­ent. Mr. Trump’s re­marks broke with his pre­de­ces­sor on style and sub­stance, and he ef­fec­tively ended an eight-year pol­icy of apol­ogy for Amer­i­can ac­tions — tor­ture, Guan­tanamo Bay and gen­eral ar­ro­gance — and of­fer­ing olive branches to bit­ter U.S. en­e­mies.

An­a­lysts say the 44th and 45th pres­i­dents sim­ply view the world in far dif­fer­ent terms. One ar­gues that in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tu­tions and co­op­er­a­tion are the keys to global or­der, and the other con­tends that Amer­ica must come first in his de­ci­sion-mak­ing and that mul­ti­lat­eral groups too of­ten cause more prob­lems than they solve.

“There are not two pres­i­dents who rep­re­sent the two poles of that more than Obama and Trump,” said James Carafano, vice pres­i­dent of for­eign pol­icy at the con­ser­va­tive Her­itage Foun­da­tion. “Obama, at the end of the day, is a struc­tural­ist who be­lieves that if you can get ev­ery­body into these in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions and mul­ti­lat­eral in­sti­tu­tions that will pro­mul­gate norms of be­hav­ior that will con­di­tion states and pre­vent the need for con­flict. Trump is ex­actly the op­po­site. In both of their U.N. speeches, you see that stark philo­soph­i­cal dif­fer­ence.”

Con­trasts can be drawn from Mr. Trump’s speech Tues­day and any of Mr. Obama’s ad­dresses dur­ing his eight years in of­fice. But few il­lus­trate the dif­fer­ence as clearly as Mr. Obama’s first, in which he laid out a broad phi­los­o­phy of break­ing with the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion’s in­ter­ven­tion­ist for­eign pol­icy and recom­mit­ting Amer­ica to the United Na­tions and other in­ter­na­tional groups.

“We have reached a piv­otal mo­ment. The United States stands ready to be­gin a new chap­ter of in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion, one that rec­og­nizes the rights and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of all na­tions,” Mr. Obama said in the fall of 2009. “So with con­fi­dence in our cause and with a com­mit­ment to our val­ues, we call on all na­tions to join us in build­ing the fu­ture that our peo­ple so richly de­serve.”

Mr. Trump on Tues­day deemed that the U.N. is in­deed a force in global af­fairs, but he ve­he­mently re­jected the idea that the or­ga­ni­za­tion and its pri­or­i­ties out­weigh in­di­vid­ual na­tions.

“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. As pres­i­dent of the United States, 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. “All re­spon­si­ble lead­ers have an obli­ga­tion to serve their own cit­i­zens, and the na­tion state re­mains the best ve­hi­cle for el­e­vat­ing the hu­man con­di­tion.”

At the U.N., the two men also took far dif­fer­ent ap­proaches in how they chose to con­front Amer­ica’s en­e­mies. Mr. Trump had harsh words for North Korea, be­lit­tling its leader, Kim Jong-un, by dub­bing him “Rocket Man” and vow­ing to “to­tally de­stroy North Korea” if nec­es­sary.

He also de­rided the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s nu­clear deal with Iran, say­ing he is lean­ing to­ward pulling out of the agree­ment if the Is­lamic repub­lic doesn’t cease spon­sor­ing ter­ror­ism and fo­ment­ing dis­cord in the Mid­dle East.

“That deal is an em­bar­rass­ment to the United States,” Mr. Trump said.

By con­trast, Mr. Obama came to the United Na­tions in 2013, shortly af­ter Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani rose to power, des­per­ately seek­ing an agree­ment with the would-be nu­clear power and de­vot­ing much of his ad­dress to the need for in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion and diplo­macy.

In ad­di­tion to the pres­i­dent’s rhetoric, ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials at the time were fran­ti­cally try­ing to ar­range a brief side­line meet­ing be­tween Mr. Obama and Mr. Rouhani, at­tempt­ing to se­cure a hand­shake that would sig­nify the start of a re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two decades-old foes. The hand­shake never hap­pened. In his re­marks, Mr. Obama came nowhere close to threat­en­ing Iran in the fash­ion Mr. Trump threat­ened North Korea.

“I do be­lieve that if we can re­solve the is­sue of Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram, that can serve as a ma­jor step down a long road to­ward a dif­fer­ent re­la­tion­ship, one based on mu­tual in­ter­ests and mu­tual re­spect,” Mr. Obama said.

Repub­li­cans who crit­i­cized Mr. Obama’s ap­proach to the United Na­tions, and Amer­ica’s role in the world more broadly, praised Mr. Trump’s speech.

“Af­ter eight years, it was so re­fresh­ing to see an Amer­i­can pres­i­dent speak with moral clar­ity and con­vic­tion about Amer­ica’s role in the world. Amer­ica, and Amer­i­cans, come first,” said Rep. Todd Rokita, an In­di­ana Repub­li­can who is mount­ing a chal­lenge to Sen. Joe Don­nelly, a Demo­crat.

Democrats took the op­po­site view and cast Mr. Trump as reck­less — the op­po­site, they would ar­gue, of the mea­sured tone Mr. Obama con­sis­tently set.

“Pres­i­dent Trump’s speech to the United Na­tions will be re­mem­bered not for ral­ly­ing the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity around our com­mon chal­lenges, but in­stead for threat­en­ing an­other na­tion with an­ni­hi­la­tion,” said Rep. Ted Lieu, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat.

Aside from the sub­stan­tive and clear philo­soph­i­cal dif­fer­ences, an­a­lysts said, it was clear that the two men have far dif­fer­ent styles — some­thing that be­came ap­par­ent af­ter Mr. Trump’s cam­paign and his first eight months in of­fice.

In the place of Mr. Obama’s care­fully crafted ora­tory were “tweet-ready” quotes such as the “Rocket Man” line, the threat to de­stroy North Korea and calling the Iran nu­clear deal em­bar­rass­ing.

“It was a sur­prise to hear words like that … in that hall. But, you know, these were tweet-ready quotes,” said Carla Anne Rob­bins, an ad­junct se­nior fel­low at the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions. “One can say we’ve heard it all be­fore. … It was just shock­ing in that en­vi­ron­ment.”


Pres­i­dent Obama’s care­fully crafted ora­tory at the United Na­tions Gen­eral As­sem­bly ar­gued that in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tu­tions and co­op­er­a­tion are the keys to global or­der. Last week, del­e­gates heard a starkly dif­fer­ent mes­sage and tone from his suc­ces­sor.

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