Global gathering focuses allied alarm at Trump’s world view

Posted at 4:05 PM, Oct 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-01 18:05:46-04

On the day the US and Canada finally reached a trade agreement — after rancorous months that saw President Donald Trump insult the country’s leader and foreign minister — Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations addressed the General Assembly.

He didn’t say a word about trade.

Instead, Marc-André Blanchard touched on climate change, diversity and inclusion, the plight of refugees, peacekeeping and multilateral cooperation on Monday, using his time on the world stage to emphasize Canada’s embrace of issues that Trump has rejected or downplayed.

UN Week started with laughter in response Trump’s campaign style rhetoric about the US economy and, as the days went on, built into a sustained international rebuttal of his foreign policies as well as his vision of “global governance.”

Country after country challenged the President’s world view and Trump administration directives during the UN’s “Super Bowl of diplomacy.” As leaders declared their commitment to international institutions that Washington has criticized, some analysts said the chorus raised questions about US leadership of the post-World War II global order.

Russia and China pushed back on the US call for more sanctions on North Korea. The European Union and other signatories to the Iran nuclear deal announced their intent to create a mechanism to help Iran avoid US attempts to squeeze its economy. Israel’s leader refused to back Trump’s endorsement of a two-state solution to the Middle East peace process.

The French Prime Minister gave a fiery speech repudiating Trumpism in many of its forms, including current policies on climate, Mideast peace, Iran and trade. And country after country reaffirmed its commitment to free trade, international organizations and multilateralism in a pointed rebuttal to Trump, who had called them “a threat to sovereignty.”

Some analysts said the pushback from world leaders and officials addressing the General Assembly was an overreaction based more on the President’s style than his positions.

‘The lens of US interests’

“There’s a great deal of overreaction to some of these issues,” said Brett Schaefer, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation. “The President did not reject multilateralism, he did not reject cooperation with other countries. What he said, quite simply, is that the United States is going to approach multilateralism through the lens of US interests, which is of course what other countries do and what the US has done historically.”

But others said the frustration on display was about substance and the US pursuit of policies, like its rejections of the Paris agreement on climate change and the Iran nuclear deal, that affect other countries’ security.

“If you sensed a theme, it wasn’t organized,” said one senior official from a close US ally. “But maybe it emerged because there’s broad, broad frustration. It’s not that all the policies are bad, but many are seen as short-sighted and tearing at the fabric of international cooperation.”

Heather Conley, a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the consistent refrain from other leaders in support of the UN and international collaboration made for a clear message.

“What you heard was the international community in some ways yearning for that American leadership that constructed the international system and saying, ‘we will go on even if you don’t support it anymore,’ ” Conley said. “It’s not going to be the same … without the United States, but everyone, from our closest friends to our adversaries, was saying ‘no! we’re going to maintain what we can.’

Conley sees “an erosion in US leadership” that “was based on values and principles that we didn’t always live up to, but we aspired to.” She added, “this does create a vacuum.”

In his Sept. 25 remarks to the UN, Trump equated global governance with coercion and domination. His administration has harshly criticized the world body, withdrawn from some UN groups and curtailed or stopped funding in others.

He has started trade wars, rejected major international agreements and questioned old alliances. At the UN, he declared that his administration rejects “the ideology of globalism” in favor of “the doctrine of patriotism.”

The rebuttals began even before Trump spoke, though the US was rarely mentioned.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said as the UN session started that trust in institutions, among states and in the rules-based global order is at “a breaking point.”

“Trust in global governance is also fragile,” Guterres said. “Multilateralism is under fire precisely when we need it most.”

Over the week, member countries echoed his concerns.

“We live in times clouded by isolationist forces,” Brazilian President Michel Temer said.

“Isolation may even give one a false sense of security at first,” Temer said. “Protectionism may even sound seductive, but it is through openness and integration that we can achieve harmony.”

Temer sounded a theme that speakers repeated over the next few days. “Collective problems require collectively coordinated responses,” he said, citing terrorism and transnational crime, money laundering and drug trafficking.

Canada’s Blanchard cited the challenges of climate change, economic equality, migration and humanitarian emergencies.

‘Exclusion and discord’

“None can be solved by countries acting in isolation or bilaterally, all of them require the world to work together,” the Canadian ambassador said Monday.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto criticized “those who choose exclusion and discord” and turned Trump’s formula on its head. “Multilateralism is the best way of defending sovereignty … and at the same time, contributing to the security and well being of the community of nations,” he said.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas held up his country as an example of multilateralism’s success. “Europe has proved to the world that multilateralism and sovereignty are not a contradiction in terms,” Maas said. “On the contrary, in a world faced with immense global problems, we can only safeguard sovereignty if we work together.”

Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid said that “we simply cannot afford to be self-centered … The only path that gives us a better hope for a future is cooperation.” Ecuador’s Constitutional President Lenin Moreno Garcés, said that, “the United Nations is our organization; if there are flaws let’s correct them, let’s not take it apart and dismember it.”

Many, perhaps stirred by Trump’s criticism, called for UN reforms. Others warned of danger ahead. Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Pakistan’s foreign minister, said Sept. 29 that “forces of protectionism, populism and isolationism are gaining currency.”

“Post-World War idealism is giving way, slowly but surely, to a hardened, militaristic approach,” Qureshi said, adding that it is “not only regressive” but “downright dangerous.”

Some of Washington’s traditional opponents crowed, others complained.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani , referring to US opposition to the Iran deal, which others support, said the US violated international law. “The Americans are alone and isolated,” he said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov railed against those who “declare the priority of self-serving unilateral approaches” and their “belligerent revisionism,” listing Middle East peace talks, the Iran nuclear deal, the World Trade Organization and the Paris Agreement on climate — all areas where the US has taken unilateral action, withdrawn or threatened to.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned “international rules and multilateral mechanisms are under attack, and the international landscape is filled with uncertainties and destabilizing factors.”

As China fights a trade war with Trump who used the UN to accuse Beijing of election interference, Wang pushed for multilateralism saying that nations have to pursue “win-win cooperation” and that “we need to … to replace confrontation with cooperation and coercion with consultation.”


Schaefer, of the Heritage Foundation, said that it’s not new for the US to chart its own path and rile others in the process, pointing to the Iraq War, or US opposition to a 1975 UN resolution declaring that Zionism is a form of racism. “What is different is that this administration is unapologetic about it and this is where a lot of the resentment arises from,” he said.

Conley sees the historical echoes, but agrees with the leaders who warned of unpredictable times ahead. Countries like China and Russia likely see opportunities in using the US as a foil. And as the distance between the US and traditional allies seems to be widening, she points to the wild card of Trump’s complicated domestic challenges.

Next month’s midterm elections could present the President with an even more challenging domestic legislative environment, if Democrats take control of the House or Senate.

If that happens, “will the President increasingly turn to foreign and security policy to enhance legitimacy?” Conley asked. “Will that mean even more bold and unexpected actions and policies at a time when the world is increasingly unstable and fragile, both in terms of our allies and our adversaries?”

“I think we’re rolling into some very uncertain territory,” she said.