Liddick: The un-diplomat Donald Trump speaks truth to the UN assembly (column)
Maybe it was the delivery. It’s a problem, sometimes: the uneven phrasing, the hands that seem disconcertingly unconnected to the words, the squinting, the hair… But that’s just delivery. If it gets in the way, read a transcript of President Trump’s speech at the U.N. last Wednesday. There was a lot in it, a lot that was very good indeed.
The first two-and-a-half pages were particularly robust. After a gracious “thank you” to nations who offered support and aid following hurricanes Harvey and Irma and a bit of introductory chest-thumping, the president got down to the meat of the supposed conflict between an “America-first” policy and a multilateral world. It was a magisterial exploration of how prosperous, independent, sovereign nations serve the world through organizations like the United Nations — because such nations have the human, financial and military resources to do great good when they work together to enlarge the regions in which humans are prosperous, free and sovereign — not out of altruism nor because such things are philosophically and morally “good,” but because their own interests are served thereby. It was not quite Adam Smith, but it was close. And it echoed Harry Truman’s comments about how the United Nations and the world at large benefit from the actions of such nations.
Then there was the language to which the chattering classes and diplomatic mandarins took exception. Steeped for decades in circumspections and circumlocutions; trained in niceties and nuance; accustomed to deference and polite evasion; they reacted to the president’s plain talk as though he had just torn the head off their favorite teddy bear.
President Trump was frank about the challenges posed by rogue regimes who he had no trouble naming, and whose sociopathic behavior he had no qualms outlining. He challenged the U.N. member states to live up to the organization’s charter and take more vigorous action against countries who live to violate international norms, reminding them that, if they shirked their responsibilities, others would still act. It was breathtakingly bold and utterly, authentically Trump: undiplomatic and aggravatingly correct. Aggression and evil neither vanish nor shrink when they are unopposed; they metastasize until they threaten everyone.
There were further surprises for the leisure class diplomats of the world’s comfiest workplace. The president reminded them in ways most unpleasant that if they didn’t take their work seriously, neither would anyone else. No, there’s no sane rationale for having nations like Venezuela or Cuba on the U.N.’s Human Rights Commission, despite their being members of the club. And it spoke volumes that some in the room looked thunder at the president when he noted that the reason Venezuela is miserable today “… is not that socialism has been poorly implemented, but that socialism has been faithfully implemented,” because “… wherever true socialism or communism has been adopted, it has delivered anguish and devastation and failure.” Ronald Reagan couldn’t have put it better.
Nor, the president noted, is there a good reason the U.S. should pay as much in dues as the next three highest-paying members put together, particularly not for the results we see. Trump is right; the organization is mesmerized by its activities, not its outcomes.
Perhaps this is true because recent results — the continuing war in Syria, ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, Russian aggression against Ukraine and the catastrophe of Venezuela to name a few — have neither covered the institution with glory, nor left the world a more peaceful place.
A majority of the folks at 405 East 42nd Street don’t care to be reminded of that, but reminded they were in a speech that ended with a stirring note of hope that envisioned “… a world of proud, independent nations that embrace their duties, seek friendship, respect others” that worked successfully for peace.
Little good has been said of President Trump’s speech, mostly because since he spoke it, it can’t be worth much. Much commentary has labelled it idiotic, or dangerous, or both but it is neither. Instead, it put a regime prone to blackmailing the world on notice that, should it continue, really unpleasant things might happen to it.
It put the blackmailer’s enablers on notice that their actions have been seen for what they are, and they are accountable for what follows. It put those who might be considering emulating the blackmailer that they, too, might face insupportable consequences. And it reminded an inert international bureaucracy that it might want to start thinking about earning its keep.
Not a bad first effort.
Morgan Liddick writes a weekly column for the Summit Daily.
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