The United Nations is holding its 72nd Session of the U.N. General Assembly. But it is also the first one that is being addressed by Donald Trump. If the diplomatic body was expecting to be surprised by Trump’s speech, they were not disappointed. Trump has been a frequent critic of the U.N., calling it ineffective and unfair to the United States. He has proposed withholding funding. But in today’s speech he crossed lines that call into question his psychological fitness.
The bulk of the speech was standard Trumpian “America First” rhetoric with some disingenuous allusions to all nations working together. But the part that will surely get the most attention was his melodramatic threats to North Korea and Kim Jung Un. Trump said that:
“If it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and his regime.”
Let’s set aside the childish name-calling that is so familiar from our juvenile president. It’s the cartoonish hyperbole that makes these remarks so disturbing. Trump’s assertion that “we will have no choice” is a self-limiting falsehood. There are always choices for intelligent leaders. Sometimes it comes down to making the best of a bad lot. But Trump’s narrow vision that limits his choices to total destruction demonstrates how ill-prepared he is for this job.
It should be noted that the United States never made totally destroying Germany or Japan a goal of their war effort. In fact, following the war we led the effort to rebuild the nations of our former enemies. The objective in war is not total destruction, but victory. Trump’s rhetoric shows incredible insensitivity to the human life that he is proposing to snuff out. And that includes the lives of Americans and our allies. In that respect there is truth to the framing of this as a “suicide mission.”
For some perspective, last year President Obama spoke at the U.N. General Assembly. The subject of North Korea was on the table then as well. In an interview with CBS News Obama said something similar to what Trump said, but with with an important caveat:
“Our first priority is to protect the American people and our allies, the Republic of Korea, Japan, that are vulnerable to the provocative actions that North Korea is engaging in. […] But it’s not something that lends itself to an easy solution. We could, obviously, destroy North Korea with our arsenals. But aside from the humanitarian costs of that, they are right next door to our vital ally, Republic of Korea.”
Obama was not threatening North Korea, but simply noting that the U.S. has a powerful military advantage. More importantly, he qualified his remarks by recognizing the “humanitarian costs” of a nuclear conflict. That’s how a conscientious, diplomatic leader approaches a sensitive subject like this. And it illustrates the massive disconnect from reality that drives Trump’s thinking. He acts as if he’s a character in a superhero movie where everything revolves around static questions of black and white, good and evil, and nothing in between or subject to consequences.
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Trump’s ultimatum does nothing to ease tensions or arrive at a solution. They only exacerbate the problem and threaten to inflame the twisted sensitivities of Kim, who is no better suited to leadership than Trump. The two of them could seriously jeopardize the future for millions of people and much of the world. And while there is little we can do about Kim, Americans should make every effort to divert Trump from his disastrous course, including removing him from office as soon as possible.