Patriotism, Peace and Partnerships: Trump’s Speech at the UNGA

There have always been two versions of President Trump. One is the rather unhinged Trump, a role he seems to thoroughly enjoy. The other is teleprompter Trump. A controlled, almost mundane alter-ego bound by verbose speeches, written by Stephen Miller. The UN General Assembly and the rest of the world were treated to the latter yesterday.

Trump used his appearance on the “biggest stage in the world” as he called it, to continue his reelection campaign. America First was working, Trump opined. He had made the country stronger than ever. A booming economy, record unemployment figures and the most powerful military in the history of the world were all testimony to his presidential accolades.

Trump also emphasized the United States’ right to protect its borders, while urging the other nations present to do the same. At the same time, he uttered harsh criticism on the open border approach that has abandoned the idea of sovereign nation-states, stating the policy behind it was “cruel and vicious”. Moreover, wise leaders would put the well-being of their own country and their people first, concluding that “the future does not belong to the globalists, it belongs to the patriots!”

Despite this isolationist approach, Trump also noted that the US is looking for partners and enemies. One of these partners has been Mexico, which Trump explicitly praised for the efforts made to stop illegal border crossings into the United States. “Mexico gives us great respect – and in return I respect them,” Trump said.

Trump then thanked Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador for sending thousands of soldiers to the Mexican border for its protection. The US has also taken unprecedented steps to prevent illegal border crossings, Trump said. “We will implement our laws and protect our borders,” he emphasized before urging people not to enter the US illegally directly.

Meanwhile, another president, Nicolas Máduro, the president of Venezuela did not receive the same treatment. The USA has been trying to oust Máduro for months, and as president, they have long since recognized Juan Guaidó. Máduro was called by Trump for being an “a puppet of Cuba, protected by Cuban bodyguards”.

The most anticipated part of Trump’s speech was his words on Iran. And the president did not disappoint. He accused the Iranian leadership of exploiting their people and propagating “monstrous anti-Semitism.”

Iran was “a malignant tumour that has to be eradicated.” The Iranian leadership had failed its people for four decades and ought to focus on building the country in lieu of exporting terrorism and hate.

As long as this paradigm shift has not occurred, no sanctions would be lifted. In fact, sanctions would be tightened further. Iran’s attempt to free itself from the sanctions by intensifying its “violent and unprovoked aggression” would, therefore, be counterproductive.

Trump did not stop here, adding the Iranian regime was “one of the greatest threats” peace-loving nations encounter these days and its “blood lust” must not be financed by other countries. And while not threatening military actions directly, the United States would reserve its rights to “defend American interests.”

These interests also include peace, and America was ready to “make friends with all those who truly seek peace and respect,” while Trump reminded the world that “many of America’s closest friends today were once our greatest foes.”

Trump’s speech includes two main different objectives. One is a commitment to his base, to stay on course, fight illegal immigration and continue to put American interests first. The second objective was the genuine attempt to deescalate the Iran crisis – though in a highly idiosyncratic fashion.

Trump’s offer of peace and partnerships was, thus, not an attempt to appease his critics, but a political survival instinct. The position he has put himself into with Iran remains unfavourable and avoiding an armed conflict remains crucial in lights of looming impeachment and the upcoming election.