Donald Trump's chance to hide from his problems

For a man who usually shuns global institutions, the ...

Posted: Sep 25, 2018 9:30 AM
Updated: Sep 25, 2018 9:30 AM

For a man who usually shuns global institutions, the United Nations General Assembly in New York may, strangely, be a welcome refuge this week for US President Donald Trump.

He has been at his job long enough to know what the handful of world leaders he cares about are likely to bring to the table.

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China will likely gripe about trade -- ditto Canada, Japan and EU nations, including Germany.

South Korea will have an update on North Korea. Iran will be on the offensive following Trump's withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. And British Prime Minister Theresa May will need sympathy and support from her closest ally -- something he invariably manages to mess up.

But the beauty of being Trump is that he is single-minded enough to know what he wants out of each leader. Therefore, in his mind, at least, he has the measure of what he needs to do at UNGA and it could be a comfortable hiding place for him this week. He'd be hiding in plain sight, sure, but safe from the storms gathering around him.

All-important midterm elections are on the immediate horizon, and the Democrats seem to be stealing a march on one of his defensive barriers: the Republican majority in the House of Representatives.

And then there's his pick for the vacant seat on the US Supreme Court, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who is facing allegations of sexual misconduct, which he denies.

Also rising to a simmer is Trump's anger with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which last week saw a new twist: reports that Sessions' deputy, Rod Rosenstein, offered to wear a hidden microphone to expose Trump's failings.

Suddenly, life inside UN HQ is looking, if not sweet for Trump, then less bitter than the reality outside.

Last year, Trump took no prisoners in his speech. He paid lip service to aspirations of the UN: "To put it simply, we meet at a time of both immense promise and great peril. It is entirely up to us whether we lift the world to new heights, or let it fall into a valley of disrepair."

He regaled the gathered dignitaries with America's greatness: "The United States has done very well since Election Day last November 8th. The stock market is at an all-time high — a record. Unemployment is at its lowest level in 16 years."

And he tore into North Korea, using very un-UN language.

"No one has shown more contempt for other nations and for the well-being of their own people than the depraved regime in North Korea," he said.

"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. That's what the United Nations is all about; that's what the United Nations is for. Let's see how they do."

Since then, according to Trump, he and Kim have done very well. It seems likely Trump will want to tell the UNGA just how well he has done.

He insists on maintaining the fiction that Kim is a dictator who keeps his word: no missile tests and no nuclear bombs.

Kim, meanwhile, maintains the fiction that he is a leader who really will -- if everyone else does what he wants -- keep his word.

So the question on everyone's lips is who will get the rough edge of Trump this year?

The smart money is Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian president.

Last year, Trump promised to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal. "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."

Eight months later, he followed through, unilaterally pulling out of the multilateral deal and sticking sanctions back on Iran.

Expect Trump to deliver a blunt message to close allies like the UK, France and Germany.

Don't expect a climb down on climate change, despite the fact António Guterres, the UN Secretary General, says it's his main priority and if it's not tackled now will have devastating consequences for the whole planet.

Indeed, don't expect any diplomatic niceties. Quite possibly, Trump will double down on his criticism of Palestinian leaders and remind everyone why he cut his funding to the UN for Palestinian aid and outreach.

But however wild the rhetorical ride inside the UN, it will be nothing compared to storms erupting outside.

And given Trump's history of thinking on his feet, if he feels on a roll about any issue that pops into his head, he could very well start talking about any of the domestic clouds currently enveloping his Presidency.

This, for sure, will not be a dull week.

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