Trump's 2017 UN speech: rhetoric and reality

On Tuesday, US President Donald Trump addressed the United Nations General Assembly for the first time, sparking reviews about his bombastic tone, ridicule phraseology, confrontational style, principled realism approach, echoing the neoconservative impulses, and so on. Many analysts of the speech were quick to compare his tirade with George W. Bush's 2002 speech, since they both gave a binary offer between the "virtuous many" against the "reckless few", picking out a trio of arch-enemies - North Korea, Iran and Venezuela. This was much congruent with the "axis of evil" concept, with the only difference that Iraq is replaced by Venezuela.

Regarding Venezuela, he stressed that "We have also imposed tough, calibrated sanctions on the socialist Maduro regime in Venezuela, which has brought a once thriving nation to the brink of total collapse. The socialist dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro has inflicted terrible pain and suffering on the good people of that country. This corrupt regime destroyed a prosperous nation by imposing a failed ideology that has produced poverty and misery everywhere it has been tried. To make matters worse, Maduro has defied his own people, stealing power from their elected representatives to preserve his disastrous rule. The Venezuelan people are starving and their country is collapsing. Their democratic institutions are being destroyed. This situation is completely unacceptable and we cannot stand by and watch."

"As a responsible neighbor and friend, we and all others have a goal. That goal is to help them regain their freedom, recover their country, and restore their democracy. I would like to thank leaders in this room for condemning the regime and providing vital support to the Venezuelan people. The United States has taken important steps to hold the regime accountable. We are prepared to take further action if the government of Venezuela persists on its path to impose authoritarian rule on the Venezuelan people. I ask every country represented here today to be prepared to do more to address this very real crisis. We call for the full restoration of democracy and political freedoms in Venezuela," he added.

Similar approach was used for Iran, and Trump stated that "the Iranian government masks a corrupt dictatorship behind the false guise of a democracy. It has turned a wealthy country with a rich history and culture into an economically depleted rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed, and chaos. The longest-suffering victims of Iran's leaders are, in fact, its own people. Rather than use its resources to improve Iranian lives, its oil profits go to fund Hezbollah and other terrorists that kill innocent Muslims and attack their peaceful Arab and Israeli neighbors. This wealth, which rightly belongs to Iran's people, also goes to shore up Bashar al-Assad's dictatorship, fuel Yemen's civil war, and undermine peace throughout the entire Middle East."

He further added that "we cannot let a murderous regime continue these destabilizing activities while building dangerous missiles, and we cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program. The Iran Deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into. Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States, and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it - believe me. It is time for the entire world to join us in demanding that Iran's government end its pursuit of death and destruction. And above all, Iran's government must stop supporting terrorists, begin serving its own people, and respect the sovereign rights of its neighbors. Oppressive regimes cannot endure forever, and the day will come when the Iranian people will face a choice. Will they continue down the path of poverty, bloodshed, and terror? Or will the Iranian people return to the nation's proud roots as a center of civilization, culture, and wealth where their people can be happy and prosperous once again? The Iranian regime's support for terror is in stark contrast to the recent commitments of many of its neighbors to fight terrorism and halt its financing."

By far the harshest words were used for North Korea: "No one has shown more contempt for other nations and for the wellbeing of their own people than the depraved regime in North Korea. Their reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles threatens the entire world with unthinkable loss of human life. It is an outrage that some nations would not only trade with such a regime, but would arm, supply, and financially support a country that imperils the world with nuclear conflict. No nation on earth has an interest in seeing this band of criminals arm itself with nuclear weapons and missiles. The United States has great strength and patience, but 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 for his regime. The United States is ready, willing and able, but hopefully this will not be necessary."

Starting with the case of Venezuela, Trump is playing the classic strategy of the firefighter-pyromaniac, referring to the firefighter who lights fires in order to capitalize upon his own capacity to extinguish them. Venezuela's deep economic and social crisis did not started due to alleged "socialist mismanagement", but as a result of US policies. The economy of Venezuela is oil-dependent and petroleum exports accounts roughly 95% of total exports, and despite of strained relations between the two countries, the United States has been Venezuela's largest export and import partner. Economy spiraled into crisis after World oil prices began a plunge in 2014, as a direct result of the US-Saudi oil price war. This policy has proved successful in late 1980s when it contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union, and three years ago it was repeated to undermine the influence of oil-dependent Iran and Russia, although this time it failed to destroy either economy. Instead, the hardest hit oil-producing countries are in Africa and South America, and among them the worst affected is Venezuela. Furthermore, in May 2014 US House of Representatives passed a bill against Venezuela that would apply trading sanctions and authorize appropriations to support civil society in that country, i.e. anti-government protests that miraculously started in the same time.

When it comes to Iran, Trump's speechwriter, an unexperienced 32-years-old Stephen Miller, has proven to be pretty unimaginative. His "civilization vs. terror" demagogy echoes outdated Pahlavi propaganda used druing the Iranian Revolution of 1979, itself most probably conceptualized by some American political advisor of the Shah. In mid-August of 1978, when demonstrations against his puppet regime already commenced, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi publicly declared: "While we promise you the Great Civilization, others are promising you the Great Terror." Only four days later, in order to fulfill the promise of a "great terror", the Cinema Rex in Abadan was set on fire and more then four hundred people were burned to death. The regime immediately accused the revolutionaries, but people were not fooled because a covert action was obvious, and after the Revolution responsible agents were identified and convicted.

The desperate blaming game was continued by the United States and every administration has accused Iran of being the World's biggest state sponsor of terrorism, not on the basis of any evidence but as a settled principle of Dual containment, an official foreign policy developed by the pro-Israeli lobby organization WINEP. Thus, since 1993 the US administration blamed Iran for every terrorist attack in the World, even before any investigation had begun. American intelligence services are perfectly aware that Iran hasn't been involved in any terrorist attack, as well as his allies, but the demonization narrative of "terrorism supporter" still continues to serve policy goals. The biggest irony in Trump's speech is claim that "Iran's support for terror is in stark contrast to the recent commitments of its neighbors (i.e. Saudi Arabia) to fight terrorism," which is pure role switching. US services are aware of it, as is Trump himself.

Trump's menacing remarks about North Korea should not be seen either as a real threat or a show to the cheering crowds of supporters, but as a clear and open security guarantee for Japan and South Korea. For those countries, the most easiest and cheapest way of balancing against North Korea is development of own nuclear capabilities, as both are highly technologically developed. However, this idea irks the United States which prefers a far more expensive idea - selling American arms worth dozens of billions of dollars. Trump is a businessman and his America First policy actually works perfectly: an aggressive rhetoric is necessary for increasing political tensions and need for the US military equipment. This exporting strategy worked in the Eastern Europe against Russia, it worked in the Persian Gulf states against Iran, and now it continues in East Asia. For the same reasons, it would be hard to imagine that he will actually break deal with Iran, and consequently Boeing's deals worth roughly $20 billion with Iranian airlines.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak is a social anthropologist and human rights defender with more than five years of experience in the Open Society Institute (OSF), an organization campaigning for human rights and reconciliation in the former Yugoslavia. His research interests include law and religion, human rights, comparative ethics, and international relations. Born in Osijek, he lives and works in Zagreb.