Trump's laughed-at UN speech shows the US has lost its moral high ground

John Moore/Getty ImagesWorld leaders at the United Nations General Assembly laughed at President Donald Trump on Tuesday when he claimed his administration had accomplished more than any other in US history.
  • President Donald Trump was laughed at during his speech to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday for saying he had led an effective administration.
  • Trump went on to bash Iran in the speech, and Iran’s president later made a speech saying Trump had a “Nazi disposition.”
  • Iran traffics in violent anti-Semitism and seeks to destroy Israel, but Trump was the joke of the day while European powers rushed to engage with Iran.
  • Trump’s trade wars against allies and disdain for multilateral agreements have isolated the US on the world stage.

President Donald Trump’s laughed-at speech to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, and Iranian President Rouhani’s follow-up response, demonstrated clearly how the US has lost its moral high ground on the world stage.

Trump started his UN speech much like one of his signature campaign rallies: by touting his achievements since taking office two years ago in trademark hyperbolic terms.

“In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country,” Trump said, prompting laughter.

Trump’s qualified claim – to have “almost” done more than any other administration in two years – wasn’t factually false. But the assembly nonetheless laughed out loud at the idea that Trump has led an effective presidency.

The rest of Trump’s speech focused on singling out Iran and Venezuela, two countries engaged in horrible human rights abuses against their own people, yet somehow cast as sympathetic figures before the UN.

When Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke hours later at the same podium, he rebuked Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran deal and went on to accuse him of having a “Nazi disposition” and xenophobic attitudes.

Iran openly plots Israel’s destruction and the killing of Jewish people. It is a theocratic regime led by religious leaders that persecutes its LGBT citizens as well as religious minorities. Iran’s politics have been rife with holocaust deniers and they support Hamas, a foreign group that attacks Israel with flaming kites bearing swastikas meant to burn down fields.

But at the UN on Tuesday, its was the US president accused of Nazi leanings, and it drew no laughter from the crowd.

US moral high ground collapsed

Trump is currently renegotiating trade deals with several US allies, including Canada and Mexico, using high tariffs for leverage. Trump’s trade practices portray an unabashed mercantilism, which, ironically, mirrors the behaviour he wishes to punish China for.

The Iran deal, which China, the UK, France, and Germany, remain party to, sought to ease sanctions on Iran in exchange for a solid commitment form it to not seek out nuclear weapons.

But now, Trump has withdrawn from the deal and wants the same countries his trade practices have beaten up to join him in cutting ties with Iran, which has kept its side of the deal.

Trump has actually largely succeeded in using sanctions to scare off businesses from transacting with Iran, but the EU on Tuesday announced a plan to introduce a barter system with Iran to facilitate trade while dodging US sanctions.

Here’s how Dina Esfandiary, an Iran and nuclear disarmament expert at Kings College London, summed up Rouhani’s speech on Twitter: “Globally, a political win for him: #Trump’s speech was laughed at, while #Iran seems to be a pragmatic power, continuing its implementation of the deal.”

In short, Trump has found himself isolated by allies who now increasingly look to work among themselves to cut out the US.

To be sure, the UN isn’t a lauded judge of morality, as its own organs stand linked to abuses and its Human Rights Council includes chronic underachievers such as Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.

At the UN General Assembly in 2018, it’s funny that Trump thinks himself an effective president. But the scramble to engage with Iran, so it won’t build a nuclear weapon to point at Isreal, is no joke.

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