Trump’s United Nations Speech Spotlighting “America First”

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Trump United Nations General Assembly UNGA Speech America First
U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres (L), US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley (L rear), US President Donald Trump (C) and Thailand’s Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai wait for a meeting on United Nations Reform at the U.N. headquarters on September 18, 2017 in New York City. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images)

President Donald Trump delivered a defining United Nations speech spotlighting “America First” on September 25, 2018. Central to his address was the message that America will not bend to the whim of globalization nor partake in other initiatives where America loses its sovereignty.

In an era where policy and social momentum are defined by currents of emotion (and sometimes mass hysteria), it is stunning to see the American president take a strong stance against collectivism. The danger of collectivism is that often the identity and voice of the individual is suffocated — especially in totalitarian systems. While most would champion the individual against the collective strong-arming of societal pressure, the same values are lost when the principle is applied between nations.

Maintaining the independence of the individual nation is critical to the health of the collective. Critics have responded to the theme of “America first” as being an isolationist view. It is not. Trump’s position to put “America first” isn’t one of isolation, but rather autonomy. In his first two years in office, that autonomy has allowed the American president to accomplish more in half of one sitting than most presidents have accomplished in two terms. 

Addressing the United Nations General Assembly, President Trump:

  • Gave a nod to the embassy move in Israel to Jerusalem, which he said underscores his commitment to peace in the region between Israelis and Palestinians  
  • Spoke critically of Iran, distinctly addressing its dictators and leaders (and not the Iranian people at large)
  • Warned against German dependence on Russian energy, hinting at Russia as an expansionist foreign power
  • Applauded Gulf countries for “taking more responsibility in fighting terrorism”
  • Recognized North Korea, adding he has seen “encouraging measures,” including the suspension of tests and other steps to ensure good faith negotiations. He also thanked North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un for “his courage”

Trump has repeatedly faced backlash for his support of dictator states and willingness to dialogue with their leaders. However, few realize that participation of Arab nations in fighting violent extremism is instrumental to countering violent extremism. Foreign collaborative efforts benefit the American people by reducing the risk of radicalization and terror attacks.

The critique the president faced extended to his recognition of Kim Jong-un, whom he addressed as “rocket man” early during his presidency when tensions with North Korea were seemingly fanned by Twitter diplomacy. Despite the previous exchange, dialogue with North Korea is imperative. Among the administration’s critics, fewer still understand this critical need to a develop relationship with North Korea.

President Trump’s leadership at the General Assembly was a success if success is defined by a willingness to come to the table. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated he’s willing to meet Kim Jong-un, a significant move that could lower tensions between the two nations. In what is termed as breaking the shell of mistrust, the United Nations General Assembly is a demonstration of one thing the UN can do, which is to bring nations together.

However, when it comes to how to move forward, that is the responsibility and right of each sovereign nation — something Trump did well to remind the assembly  despite the laughter he received from the audience. It’s very easy for people to laugh; it’s much tougher to get one of the most volatile nations in the world to dialogue and step outside its shell.

President Trump has demonstrated that the policy of “America First” can lead a community of  nations with divergent philosophies toward peace.



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Shireen Qudosi

Shireen Qudosi is Clarion Project's National Correspondent.