President Trump’s speech at the U.N. last week brought into clear focus some issues that have been simmering for years. Previous presidents have hinted at this discord, but they too often did it with hollowed-out diplomatic verbiage, leaving hard truths unsaid. Mr. Trump instead followed in the footsteps of Ronald Reagan, who famously called out the Soviet Union’s “evil empire” and, in Berlin, challenged, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” It was a wake-up call the U.N. needed to hear.
For years now the United Nations has been an aimless, bloated caricature of what it was supposed to be. It was formed in the aftermath of World War II to help prevent another worldwide conflagration, and to foster better relations among disparate countries and peoples. Instead, it morphed into an apologist for autocratic regimes that repress their own people and spew anti-democratic threats against their neighbors. And in the process, the U.N. built up a cumbersome bureaucracy that regularly veers far off course.
My great Senate colleague Patrick Moynihan gave perhaps the finest defense of the fundamental values of freedom in answer to one of the U.N.’s most egregious actions. As America’s U.N. ambassador in 1976, Moynihan rose to forcefully denounce a virulently anti-Israel resolution that equated “Zionism to racism.” He promised that “the U.S. does not acknowledge, it will never abide by, it will never acquiesce in this infamous act.” That forceful speech laid down the abiding principle that the U.S. would not be bound to U.N. actions that distorted the organization’s original mission and made a mockery of fairness and common sense.
Failing to heed that warning, over the decades the U.N. stumbled into one outrageous action after another. It looked the other way in the face of communist aggression, made excuses for dictators, and twisted logic to fit a relentlessly leftist agenda. It once even secretly elected Libyan strongman Muammar el-Qaddafi to head its Commission on Human Rights.
More recently, a U.N.-inspired offshoot, the International Criminal Court, declared that it would investigate U.S. military forces deployed to Afghanistan for alleged “war crimes and crimes against humanity.” Imagine this travesty of justice: American soldiers fighting against Islamist terrorists whose leaders masterminded the Sept. 11 attacks, somehow equated with war criminals” Talk about torturing the truth!
That’s why Trump was absolutely right to call out the U.N. for its hypocrisy and wrong-headedness. He laid out a clear-eyed vision that places responsibility for the world’s problems where it belongs, chastising Iran’s leaders for a brutal, corrupt regime that inflicts repression at home and aggression on its neighbors, and raising the heat on the spectacularly failed socialist state of Venezuela, which has managed to squander vast oil riches and impoverish its people.
The president also again rightly reminded our allies that they must take on a fairer share of the financial and military burden of defending freedom. For too long, the U.S. has been the bank and the backbone of not only Europe’s, but also the world’s defense. Other rich nations — especially those belonging to NATO — have regularly shirked their responsibilities and left it to the U.S. to make up for their shortfalls. That has to change, and at Trump’s insistence, it finally might.
Likewise on the matter of international commerce. The president firmly signaled that free trade must be “fair trade” too. The days must end when other nations can run up endless trade deficits with the U.S., dumping below-cost products here while they steal American technology and close American companies. Yes, China, Trump was talking to you: It’s time your state-run economy worked for the mutual benefit of your largest trading partners, and not just for the benefit of the Chinese oligarchy.
I hope the world leaders who listened to the president at the U.N. recognize that his tough, realistic approach to foreign policy challenges has borne fruit, and can bear more. Last year, when he chided North Korea’s leader, Kim Jung-un, as “little Rocket Man,” diplomats cringed. But a year later, North Korea and the U.S. are in substantive and promising negotiations to save the Korean peninsula and the world from nuclear holocaust.
Now the Trump administration is applying the same pressure to Iran’s outlaw regime. By scuttling the deeply flawed nuclear deal made by President Obama and reimposing tough economic sanctions against Tehran’s ayatollahs, Trump is sending a clear signal: Change your ways, give up your dangerous nuclear ambitions, stop menacing your neighbors and stop repressing your own citizens. It’s a message the U.N. should be sending, too.
Al D’Amato, a former U.S. senator from New York, is the founder of Park Strategies LLC, a public policy and business development firm. Comments about this column? ADAmato@liherald.com.