President Trump has long been obsessed with the notion that the rest of the world was laughing at America. “We need a President who isn’t a laughing stock to the entire World,” he tweeted in 2014. Apparently he isn’t that president. When Trump told the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, “In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country,” the delegates, representing the entire world, literally laughed at him.
And for good cause. As the assembled leaders know perfectly well, Trump, in fact, has little to show for his 20 months in office beyond unnecessary chaos and hopeless confusion. (So much for his famous statement that we’d all be winning so much that we’d “be sick and tired of winning.”) He came to the United Nations, after all, with his Supreme Court nominee fighting off allegations of sexual impropriety and his deputy attorney general rumored to be on the way out for supposedly discussing the possibility of removing him from office via the 25th Amendment. Trump is an unstable personality who has produced an unstable administration — and therefore an unstable world.
Trump’s U.N. speech broke no ground but did remind everyone of how dysfunctional and dangerous he is. His predictable paean to unilateralism — “We reject the ideology of globalism and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism” — underlines the dismaying fact that he remains determined to undo the American-led world order created by the Greatest Generation out of the ashes of two world wars to prevent a third.
His most laughable line was to claim “I have forged close relationships and friendships and strong partnerships with the leaders of many nations,” when, in fact, he has alienated virtually all of the United States’ allies save Saudi Arabia and Israel. And he even kicked the Saudis in the shins by declaring that “OPEC nations are ripping off the rest of the world and I don’t like it. Nobody should like it. We defend many of these nations for nothing, and then they take advantage of us by giving us high oil prices.”
If Trump wants to allocate blame for rising oil prices (which just hit a four-year high), he might look at his policy of reimposing sanctions on Iran even though it was abiding by its nuclear commitments. In pulling out of the nuclear accord, Trump has further alienated our European allies, who are setting up a financial vehicle to facilitate trade with Iran despite the U.S. sanctions. And for what? The New York Times reports that his own defense secretary, Jim Mattis, “has told aides that he has yet to see any difference in Iran’s behavior since Mr. Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement between world powers and Tehran.”
While denigrating so many of America’s allies, Trump failed to call out Russian President Vladimir Putin, who, with his aggression, poses an infinitely greater threat to national sovereignty than does the hapless International Criminal Court.
Trump had nothing but kind words for the bloodthirsty North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, who in the space of a year has gone from “Little Rocket Man” to “Chairman Kim”: “I would like to thank Chairman Kim for his courage and for the steps he has taken,” he said. Those steps, however, don’t include actual denuclearizing. Kim is continuing to advance his nuclear and missile programs while demanding fresh concessions from Washington — and Trump appears likely to cave in by agreeing to another summit that is likely to be as vacuous as the last one.
Trump’s approach toward trade is just as substance-free and just as counterproductive. He bragged about “the successful completion of the brand-new U.S.-Korea trade deal,” even though the revamped U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement isn’t much different from the old one. He also boasted of a “groundbreaking” trade agreement with Mexico even though the deal isn’t done and doesn’t break any ground. So far Trump has had no success in getting Canada to sign up for his vapid attempts to rebrand NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) as the USMC (not U.S. Marine Corps but, rather, U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement).
Even worse is Trump’s trade war with China, the United States’ largest trading partner. He evidently thought Beijing would buckle under his pressure, but instead Xi Jinping is firing back with his own tariffs, and Trump is finding that trade wars are neither good nor easy to win.
The nearest to a legitimate win that Trump could claim is his success in driving “the bloodthirsty killers known as ISIS … out from the territory they once held in Iraq and Syria.” But he did so largely following a blueprint put in place by his hated predecessor, and the war is far from over, with experts warning that the Islamic State may be poised for a comeback in Syria and Libya.
Little wonder that, with his foreign policy creating so much pain for so little gain, Trump is being laughed at by his peers. The situation would be even worse if his own appointees did not work so hard to prevent him from doing what he wants. Trump may be able to convince a shrinking base of devotees that he is winning nonstop, but the rest of the world isn’t buying the bumper-sticker slogans he is peddling in lieu of a serious foreign policy.