BY M.R. JOSSE
NEW YORK, NY: While the folks back home are focused on Bada Dasain, most people in this part of the world are attempting to come to grips with the devastation of the massive earthquake in Mexico – the second in two weeks – and the crippling impact of Hurricane Maria that has cruelly devastated Puerto Rico.
However, for those who attempt to monitor the broad trends of opinion and debate in the United Nations General Assembly, currently meeting here at its 72nd annual session, it will be no exaggeration to state that American President Donald Trump’s 42-minute peroration, and most specifically his hard-hitting verbal attack on North Korea, Iran (and Venezuela), grabbed the most attention.
Perhaps only a tad less noticed was Trump’s rather surprising stress on ‘sovereignty’ while expounding on his worldview, attempting to blend his ‘America First’ foreign/security policy doctrine with America’s long and intimate association with promoting the basic tenets of world order and international cooperation, harking back to the UN’s founding and American initiatives such as the Marshal Plan for the recovery of post-Second World War Europe.
Plainly, most of the ‘liberal’ media and their patrons found his robust defence of national sovereignty jarringly out of whack – reminding anyone who would listen that it was akin to language that small nations regularly use in the context of safeguarding themselves against the depredations or interference of larger neighbours, or defying the dicta of the major powers.
[That naturally applies to Nepal which, as all of us are agonizingly aware, continually bears the brunt of political interference in her domestic affairs from India – when, that is, she is not also being used as a laboratory for myriad political experiments by a gaggle of would-be do-gooders including an ever-proliferating army of INGOs and NGOs.] Other sections of the American media, and the hoi polloi that form the base of the Trump movement, if it may so be called, seemed to rather enjoy their president’s unapologetic reminder to the world of America’s sacrifices and the natural tendency to assume that Washington would, for ever and ever, continue to bear a disproportionate burden of the cost of the UN, while getting kicked in the face despite, or because of, all that.
I have no doubt that the debate about whether or not Trump succeeded in credibly spelling out or justifying the essentials of his foreign policy – which, basically, is still a work-in-progress – will continue through his term in office, whether it be for one, or two terms.
Despite that caveat, the American President’s maiden UN address – executed with characteristic flair, flamboyance and a touch of apocalyptic rhetoric – will be remembered, most of all, for his frontal assault on North Korea and Iran, including this rather Biblical admonition: “If the righteous many do not confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph…When decent people and nations become bystanders to history, the forces of destruction only gather power and strength.”
Similarly noteworthy was this verbal fussilade and reminder directed at North Korean leader Kim Jong-un: “The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself, for his regime.”
Predictably, Kim responded promptly in kind, describing Trump as a “rogue” and “gangster” and a “frightened dog”. At the UN, his Foreign Minister Ri Hong-ho told reporters that North Korea may test a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific to fulfill Kim’s vow to take to the “highest level” action against the United States.
In his statement, Kim declared that rather than scaring him off his beaten path, Trump’s threats to North Korea only justify the rationale for North Korea’s nuclear/missile programme. Interestingly, some commentators have latched on Kim’s use of the old English word ‘dotard’ – to describe Trump – a word that the Merriam-Webster dictionary says means “a person in his or her dotage – a state or period of senile decay marked by decline of mental poise and alertness.” This term, one is informed, is trending online.
That said, it may probably be a good thing that Trump and Kim are actually ‘talking’ to one another, rather than firing off missiles. The same can probably be said of the fact that Trump soon after his first UN address, through a new executive order, commanded a widening of American sanctions on North Korea aimed at cutting off that country from the international banking system while targeting its major industries and shipping – rather than unleashing the dogs of war!
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, for his part, described as “absurd” Trump’s characterization of the Iran nuclear deal of 2015 a one-sided embarrassing to the United States explaining, “By definition, a deal is not perfect because in any deal you have to give and take. Otherwise you won’t have a deal.”
Talking to reporters, columnists and editorial writers of the New York Times, Zarif dismissed the idea of an addendum to the 2015 agreement, now being floated in some American quarters, and reminded them: “Who would come to listen to you anymore? With such a threat, the US is sending the wrong signal.”
Interestingly, after a meeting on the Iran nuclear deal at the UN Security Council of the P5 + Germany the other day, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel seemed to echo Zarif’s arguments saying: “To cancel the agreement would send a very negative signal. It will be much more difficult to find a diplomatic solution to other conflicts about nuclear proliferation – notably North Korea.”
While Trump praised Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, he did not refer to the Rohingya issue which both the Nigerian and Turkish presidents took up, with the former calling the crackdown by the Myanmar military anti-Muslim atrocity reminiscent of Burundi (1995) and Rwanda (1994).