Opin­ion

Trump’s U.N. Speech

Newsweek International - - CONTENTS - BY ROB BERSCHINSKI @Rob­ber­schin­ski Rob Berschinski is se­nior vice pres­i­dent for pol­icy at Hu­man Rights First and a for­mer deputy as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state.

Pres­i­dent don­ald trump’s sec­ond visit to the United Na­tions in Septem­ber be­gan with a laugh—at his ex­pense—and ended, at least in my ex­pe­ri­ence, with tears.

Trump opened his ad­dress to the world’s lead­ers in the same way that he opens many of his cam­paign-style ral­lies: by prais­ing his ad­min­is­tra­tion for ac­com­plish­ing “more than al­most any ad­min­is­tra­tion in the his­tory of [the United States].” The ob­vi­ous absurdity of this boast left the U.N.’S nor­mally staid rep­re­sen­ta­tives gig­gling in­cred­u­lously.

Hav­ing be­gun on an un­in­ten­tion­ally hu­mor­ous note, the pres­i­dent used the re­main­der of his ad­dress to at­tack many of the norms and in­sti­tu­tions that Amer­i­cans helped es­tab­lish to en­sure in­ter­na­tional peace and se­cu­rity af­ter World War II. Pit­ting a sim­plis­tic view of na­tional sovereignty against what he la­beled “glob­al­ism,” Trump proudly ad­ver­tised that the U.S. is no longer in the busi­ness of lead­ing na­tions in find­ing so­lu­tions to the world’s tough­est prob­lems.

Trump told lead­ers that a re­spect for sovereignty means “the United States will not tell you how to live or work or wor­ship.” It also means the U.S. will, for the du­ra­tion of his ad­min­is­tra­tion, no longer en­gage with the U.N.’S Hu­man Rights Coun­cil or the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court. One could al­most hear a sigh of relief from Syr­ian tyrant Bashar al-as­sad and the Burmese of­fi­cials re­spon­si­ble for the mass mur­der and rape of the Ro­hingya pop­u­la­tion. Never mind that none of these en­ti­ties threaten U.S. in­ter­ests and in many cases op­er­ate to U.S. ad­van­tage. For now, in­sti­tu­tions like the HRC will in­stead re­flect the will of Bei­jing and Riyadh.

Trump’s own re­view of the world’s hot spots in­vari­ably vi­o­lated his sovereignty shib­bo­leth. He heaped praise upon Saudi Ara­bia and the United Arab Emi­rates for their ac­tions in Ye­men, over­look­ing that, with U.S. sup­port, the bomb­ing cam­paign car­ried out by those gov­ern­ments has con­trib­uted to what the U.N. calls the world’s worst hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis. And, per­haps un­sur­pris­ingly, his re­marks omit­ted nearly any ref­er­ence to Rus­sia, de­spite its well-doc­u­mented ef­forts to al­ter the out­come of the 2016 U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Even in his choice of coun­tries wor­thy of praise, Trump sig­naled val­ues at odds with Amer­i­can ideals. His cel­e­bra­tion of Jor­dan’s de­ci­sion to host over 1 mil­lion Syr­ian refugees seemed de­signed to de­flect from his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s his­tor­i­cally un­char­i­ta­ble pol­icy of bar­ring those flee­ing war from the U.S. His praise of re­forms un­der­taken by Saudi Ara­bia’s young crown prince omit­ted the se­vere crack­down on hu­man rights ac­tivists in what re­mains a theo­cratic, ab­so­lute monar­chy. His sin­gling out of Poland and Is­rael as thriv­ing democ­ra­cies left many per­plexed, given each coun­try’s re­cent strug­gles with demo­cratic gov­er­nance.

While Trump and other na­tional lead­ers sparred, ac­tivists gath­ered in the U.N.’S hall­ways, hop­ing to bring at­ten­tion to the plight of the marginal­ized. Hu­man Rights First, the or­ga­ni­za­tion I help lead, as­sisted in as­sem­bling a panel fo­cused on the nearly 60,000 men, women and chil­dren thought to be held in Egypt as po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers. The event brought to­gether two Egyp­tian-amer­i­cans once abused in Egyp­tian prisons with the fam­i­lies of two men cur­rently held there. Li­uba Yepes, the wife of Amer­i­can Khaled Has­san, held back tears as she de­scribed his bru­tal tor­ture.

The day be­fore, Trump had met with Egyp­tian Pres­i­dent Ab­del Fat­tah el-sissi, whose rule has been marked by hu­man rights abuses. The of­fi­cial ac­count of the meet­ing made no in­di­ca­tion that Trump had raised Has­san’s case or any other mat­ter con­cern­ing Egypt’s hu­man rights record. Last month, U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo re­versed a de­ci­sion made by his pre­de­ces­sor, Rex Tiller­son, to limit the mil­i­tary aid the U.S. pro­vides to Egypt un­til that govern­ment made progress on hu­man rights. Through her tears, Yepes ex­pressed frus­tra­tion that the U.S. seems to have aban­doned what once made it great and good.

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