Three days after the United Nations adopted a resolution calling on Israel to halt Jewish settlement activity on Palestinian territory, President-elect Donald Trump tweeted that the international body “is just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.”
The harsh criticism, which Trump made Monday while vacationing at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, signaled he would likely challenge more than just the 71-year-old institution’s approach to the Middle East once he takes office.
While Trump did not elaborate on why he considered the United Nations ineffectual, he made it clear both before and after the Security Council adopted the resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem that he believed the United States should have blocked the move. President Obama instructed U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power to abstain from voting, on the grounds that the Israeli government’s continued support for expanding Jewish settlements could undermine any prospect of eventually reaching a two-state solution to the simmering conflict.
After the Security Council voted, Trump tweeted, “As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th,” which is the day he will assume the presidency.
Trump moved relatively quickly to select a U.N. ambassador nominee after being elected. But his choice, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R), has little international affairs experience beyond leading trade missions to about half a dozen countries while serving as governor.
The United Nations has come under fire for years from critics on both the right and the left. Conservatives have attacked it for infringing on individual nations’ sovereignty as well as wasting resources, while many developing nations argue that most major decisions remain dominated by a handful of countries that were influential when the United Nations was established decades ago.
In recent years, some of its peacekeeping troops have been repeatedly accused of raping civilians they were sent to protect, and this August the office of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon formally acknowledged that Nepali peacekeepers sent by the United Nations to Haiti six years ago inadvertently introduced an outbreak of cholera there, even as U.N. officials maintained they have legal immunity in connection to the epidemic. The disease killed thousands of Haitians in the wake of a devastating earthquake.
But the United Nations continues to play a key role in helping deliver humanitarian assistance across the globe, brokering cease-fires during conflicts and serving as a forum for sprawling issues such as how best to address climate change. Obama has worked doggedly during his time in office to support multilateral institutions such as the United Nations. He has used his speech each year before the U.N. General Assembly as a way to lay out his vision for foreign affairs and has convened summits there to tackle questions that include the global refugee crisis and the fight against terrorism.
Earlier this month, the president stopped by to personally thank Ban for his work when the secretary general, who is stepping down at the end of the month, was meeting with national security adviser Susan Rice at the White House.
Americans see the U.N. more negatively than positively when it comes to effectively solving problems, though most see the organization in a positive light and its popularity has risen over the past decade. Democrats are far more favorably inclined toward the U.N. than Republicans, among whom ratings plummeted during the Iraq war and have not recovered.
In February, a Gallup survey found 54 percent of the public saying the U.N. does a “poor job” trying to solve the problems it faces, 38 percent said it does a good job. But a separate spring Pew Research survey more than twice as many Americans have favorable ratings of the U.N. (64 percent) as unfavorable views (29 percent).
Both Gallup and Pew show improved ratings for the U.N. since the late 2000s. The percentage saying the organization does a “good job” has risen from 26 percent in 2009 to 38 percent in 2016 in Gallup polls; Pew finds the share rating the group favorably rose from 48 percent in 2007 to 64 percent in 2016. The improved ratings in recent years have been concentrated among Democrats and independents.
During a new conference last month, Obama emphasized that the United States must continue to play the leading role in maintaining “the basic framework of the world order” that was established after World War II.
“And I’ve said before, that’s a burden that we should carry proudly,” Obama said. “And I would hope that not just the 45th president of the United States, but every president of the United States understands that that's not only a burden, but it’s also an extraordinary privilege. And if you have a chance to do that right, then you should seize it.”
Scott Clement contributed to this report.