Donald Trump urged other nations to reject globalism and embrace patriotism at a speech to the United Nations that was interrupted by derisive laughter from other world leaders.
In the course of the bombastic address, Trump highlighted the achievements of his presidency, lashed out at enemies – Iran foremost among them – and railed against multilateralism in its spiritual home, the UN general assembly (UNGA).
In one of the more remarkable moments in the history of the annual UN summit, the chamber broke out in spontaneous laughter at Trump’s claim that “in less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country”.
Clearly taken aback, Trump said: “I didn’t expect that reaction, but that’s OK.”
The president arrived late for the summit, only leaving Trump Tower at the time he was due to speak. His turn in the running order was taken by his counterpart from Ecuador. When he arrived at the green marble podium, Trump expounded on his visceral dislike of multilateral institutions, which he portrayed as inherent threats to US sovereignty.
“America is governed by Americans,” Trump said. “We reject the ideology of globalism and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism.”
In its emphasis on sovereignty, the 34-minute speech echoed much of his first UNGA speech last year.
The greatest contrast with the earlier speech was a list of friends and enemies. Most notably, Trump included the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un, in the first group. Just over a year after threatening to “totally destroy” North Korea, Trump thanked the country’s leader for his “courage, and for the steps he has taken”.
Trump presented his June summit with Kim in Singapore as a dramatic breakthrough, saying “missiles and rockets are no longer flying in every direction,” nuclear testing had stopped, US prisoners had been released and the remains of fallen US soldiers had been returned.
He said the summit represented “a moment that is actually far greater than people would understand”.
Nuclear experts have been unconvinced, pointing out that Kim has showed no sign of being ready to dismantle his nuclear arsenal, and Pyongyang has said it has no interest in unilateral disarmament.
The main target of Trump’s rhetoric was Iran, who he blamed for the Syrian conflict.
Trump said: “Every solution to the humanitarian crisis in Syria must also include a strategy to address the brutal regime that has fueled and financed it: the corrupt dictatorship in Iran.” He made no mention of Russia, which has provided air support for the Assad regime in Damascus, helping it to survive and prevail in the civil war.
Russia and its leader, Vladimir Putin, were conspicuous by their absence from the speech, although Germany was scolded for buying Russian oil and gas. Trump, whose campaign is under investigation over possible collusion with the Kremlin during the 2016 election, did not address deep differences between the US and the Russia over Ukraine and Syria.
Trump, meanwhile, poured contempt on the Iranian leadership, with a vehemence all the more striking considering he had sent a tweet earlier in the morning that said he was sure that Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, was an “absolutely lovely man”.
From the UN lectern, however, Trump declared: “Iran’s leaders sow chaos, death and destruction. They do not respect their neighbours or borders or the sovereign rights of nations.”
He also accused Iranian leaders of embezzling “billions of dollars” and lining their own pockets.
We defend many of these nations for nothing, and then they take advantage of us by giving us high oil prices
Trump on Opec
Rouhani, who was also due to speak on the opening day of the summit, was not in the chamber to hear Trump’s speech, nor were any Iranian diplomats or officials, only a note-taker.
Another notable target of Trump’s speech was the oil producers’ organisation, Opec, which he said was “ripping off the rest of the world”. He said: “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. Not good.”
However, elsewhere in his speech, Trump praised leading Opec members Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar for pledging “billions of dollars to aid the people of Syria and Yemen”.
He made no mention of the role of Saudi and UAE forces in the Yemeni conflict, where they have been accused of war crimes because of the civilian death toll from their coalition’s bombing campaign. They are also accused of dragging their heels over efforts to find a peace settlement. Trump, however, claimed his Gulf allies were “pursuing multiple avenues to ending Yemen’s horrible, horrific civil war”.
The main theme of Trump’s speech though, was patriotism, and he urged states to focus on their own national interests.
He said: “Around the world, responsible nations must defend against threats to sovereignty not just from global governance, but also from other, new forms of coercion and domination.”
The tone and theme of the speech was in direct contradiction to the leaders who preceded and followed him to the podium. The UN secretary general, António Guterres, said that “democratic principles are under siege.”
He said: “The world is more connected, yet societies are becoming more fragmented. Challenges are growing outward, while many people are turning inward. Multilateralism is under fire precisely when we need it most.”
The French president, Emmanuel Macron, cemented his role as the anti-Trump on the world stage. Macron decried the the spread of global lawlessness, “in which everyone pursues their own interest”.
He said: “All against all ends up to everyone’s detriment.”