The U.S. President, Mr. Donald Trump, delivered his first speech at the General Assembly of the United Nation on September 19th, 2017 in New York City. He chose to deliver a 'BaQi' speech (BaQi，霸氣, a Chinese term meaning a strong, tough and somewhat patronizing) containing a few dosages of his campaign speeches which resonated with the American right and established the "America First" winning slogan. There was the familiar Trump logic and Trump demeanor in his speech but the hour long speech did deliver some new messages. In the following, I analyze his speech bearing his personality and his political environment in mind.
His opening was graceful. He thanked the world that had expressed sympathy and lent a helping hand to hurricane disasters that devastated parts of the U.S. But his tone immediately toughened, saying to the world that the American people are strong and resilient, and they will emerge from these hardships more determined than ever before. Then he bragged that the U.S. has done very well since last Election Day, the stock market at an all-time high, unemployment at its lowest level in 16 years, (attributing to US regulatory and other reforms), job growth not seen in a very long time, and spending almost $700 billion on our military and defense making it the strongest ever been. These BaQi statements probably will make our friends uneasy and enemies grinding teeth, but likely all intentional by President Trump.
Then President Trump addressed the world issues, the dangerous threats, the terrorists and extremists, the rogue regimes not only support them but also threaten others with most destructive weapons, authoritarian powers seeking to collapse our system and international criminal networks trafficking drugs and weapons, forcing mass migration, threatening our borders, and menacing our citizens. Before getting into specific cases, Trump mentioned The Marshall Plan for post WW II Europe recovery, quoting President Truman, "the success of the U.N. depends on the strength of its members" who embrace their sovereignty to promote security, prosperity, and peace for themselves and for the world. One might point out the most used word in Trump's speech is "sovereignty". Trump further elaborated: “We do not expect diverse countries to share the same cultures, traditions, or even systems of government, but we do expect all nations to uphold these two core sovereign duties: to respect the interests of their own people and the rights of every other sovereign nation.” ”This is the beautiful vision of this institution, and this is foundation for cooperation and success. Strong, sovereign nations let other countries .. coexist ... Strong, sovereign nations let their people ...control their own destiny, and strong, sovereign nations allow individuals to flourish...”
Surprisingly, there was no applause at these statements from the audience, since these resonate with the 'non-interference' doctrine that China always advocated with support of Asian, Latin American and African nations. Trump pressed on further: “In America, we do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to watch.” This line was preached for decades by the U.S. Many nations believed and followed, but the world seemed to become more realistic and prudent with second thought. They witnessed how the U.S. protruded in many parts of the world. This might explain why there was no applause response. Likely, Trump's next praise on the U.S. constitution and its 230 anniversary might have fallen on deaf ears.
What did bring applause, in fact, supports my interpretation above. Trump, elaborated the founding principle of sovereignty; "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". Here comes the first genuine applause! I believe it was the second part of the sentence that did it! The above and the following sentences, "As long as I hold this office, I will defend America’s interests above all else" and "Our citizens have paid the ultimate price to defend our freedom and the freedom of many nations represented in this great hall" were addressing his supporters besides the world audience.
Trump uttered another familiar line, "we did not seek territorial expansion, or attempt to oppose and impose our way of life on others. Instead, we helped build institutions such as this one to defend the sovereignty, security, and prosperity for all." Unfortunately, the audience in today’s U.N. is very different from two, three and four decades ago. There are multiple voices in the U.N. now steering the body to pay attention more to deeds and less to ideology or preaching. The U.S. had been disappointed with the actions and results that the U.N. had produced over the decades, but Trump's businessman logic: "the U.S. as a single nation paying 22% of the UN budget seemed unfair" is not a logical argument addressing the world political body. Similarly, his business logic: “the cost of accepting one refugee in the U.S. can afford placing 10 refugees in their home region” is not a humanitarian logic justifying the refusal of refugees to the U.S. The U.S. economy was close to 50% of the world GDP (1950-60 era) but had declined to 20% today. A UN reform proposal to adjust member assessment according to a member nation's economic strength may be appropriate. The U.S. may not get much a reduction but other richer nations can pay more. Extending Trump's business logic, would it be business smart to move the UN headquarter from the most expensive city, New York, to Asia or Africa?
Trump turned to address the specific world issues by stating: "We must reject threats to sovereignty, from the Ukraine to the South China Sea (SCS). We must uphold respect for law, borders, and culture, and the peaceful engagement these allow." SCS was only mentioned once in his speech and China and Russia were not targeted in his speech unlike prior US speeches in the U.N. In specifics, Trump was tough on North Korea, citing its sins, especially its nuclear weapon pursuit, calling Kim a rocket man on a suicide mission, and threatened to totally destroy North Korea (NK). Trump also lashed on Venezuela's government tearing down democracy, Iranian's dictator regime masked behind a false democracy funding Hezbollah and other terrorists, (calling the Iran Deal an embarrassment to the U.S.), extending indefinite military deployment in Afghanistan and changed the rule of engagement with Taliban and other terrorists groups and claiming big gains in Syria and Iraq against ISIS. Trump thanked China and Russia's for their support in the security council’s to15:0 unanimous decision to impose strict sanction against NK, but did not make any plea or specific proposal to the General Assembly for dealing with the trouble spots in the world he mentioned. It was an opportunity missed, Trump had the chance to leave a set of agenda or action plan for the UN to ponder on.
Trump's speech raised only a few applauses when mentioning sovereignty, de-nuclear effort and UN reform action. His threatening tone did not excite the audience to applause. In fact, in some news interviews post- Trump speech, people generally commented that his tough talk did not help the NK situation. Sure enough, Kim Jong-Un responded calling Trump a frightened barking dog. Trump's combative personality is hard to change, but he should realize that he can be firm, decisive and even hawkish but he has to be diplomatic with other world leaders. Taking on the entire world press or twitting to the entire world would not charge up billions of people to side with him. Diplomacy has to be the answer.
In Trump style, the speech was smoothly delivered at the UN with several messages gone across: the U.S. is taking a different path from previous Administration, adopting firmly an American First attitude (though puzzling why Trump preached everyone to be patriotic to his own country?), understanding the importance of sovereignty (exhibited in several passages in his speech), toning down rhetoric against China and Russia, and being hawkish. But failing to make any concrete proposal for solving world crises delivers a message that the U.S. has no solution for NK tension or Middle East conflicts. Putin has said that economic sanction doesn't work. I tend to agree. So for NK crisis, we just have to watch the developments unfold.