President Donald Trump delivered a sharp rebuke of multinational authority at the United Nations on Tuesday, drawing headshakes and even laughter from fellow world leaders as he boasted of America’s economic and military might.
Trump arrived late, forcing a last-minute scheduling switch, then received polite applause but also blank stares as he took his blustery brand of “America First” policies to the annual General Assembly.
Speaking in triumphal terms, Trump approached the address as an annual report to the world on his country’s progress since his inauguration. He crowed that in “less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country.”
Rather than applaud or indicate they were impressed, the audience began to chuckle and some broke into outright laughter. Trump appeared briefly flustered before joking that it was not the reaction he expected but “that’s all right.”
The moment only reinforced Trump’s isolation among allies and foes alike, as his nationalistic policies have created rifts with erstwhile partners and cast doubt in some circles about the reliability of American commitments around the world.
Trump seized his opportunity to assert American independence from the international body. He was unapologetic about his decisions to engage with the erstwhile pariah North Korea, remove the U.S. from the international Iran nuclear accord and object to U.N. programs he believes are contrary to American interests.
“We reject the ideology of globalism and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism,” Trump said.
He referenced a long list of U.N. initiatives, from the International Criminal Court to the Human Rights Council, that his administration is working to undermine.
“As far as America is concerned, the ICC has no jurisdiction, no legitimacy and no authority,” he said. The U.S. is boycotting the Human Rights Council, arguing it overlooks abuses by some and serves as a venue for anti-American and anti-Israeli action.
Trump’s denunciation of globalism drew murmurs from the room that stands as the very embodiment of the notion.
Other tense moments included his criticism of Germany’s pursuit of a direct energy pipeline from Russia, which drew a dismissive headshake from a member of the U.S. ally’s delegation. His mention of the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar all in one breath, was received by stone-faced Saudi officials. The UAE and Saudi Arabia have been boycotting Doha since last year as part of a political dispute tearing apart the typically clubby Gulf Arab nations.
The laughter in the first moments of the address evoked a campaign line Trump frequently deployed against his predecessor Barack Obama — who embraced international engagement — suggesting that due to weak American leadership, “the world is laughing at us.”
In 2014, Trump tweeted “We need a President who isn’t a laughing stock to the entire World. We need a truly great leader, a genius at strategy and winning. Respect!”
In addition to the keynote speech, Trump is to chair a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on the topic of countering nuclear proliferation on Wednesday. His four days of choreographed foreign affairs were to stand in contrast to a presidency sometimes defined by disorder.
Appearances on the global stage tend to elevate the stature of presidents both abroad and at home. But even before his arrival for the annual gathering of world leaders and diplomats, the desired image was being overshadowed at home by domestic political troubles, with Trump forced to confront the salacious and embarrassing.
The fate of his second Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, was cast into fresh doubt over the weekend amid a second allegation of sexual misconduct, which Kavanaugh denies.
Drama also swirled Monday around the status of his deputy attorney general. Rod Rosenstein was reported last week to have floated the idea of secretly recording Trump last year and to have raised the idea of using the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. The man overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia probe and a frequent target of Trump’s ire offered to resign and perhaps expected Monday to be fired. He received a stay of punishment at least until Thursday, when he is to meet with Trump at the White House.
With cable news chyrons flashing breathless updates about both Beltway dramas, news of Trump’s foreign policy moves from the U.N., led by a new trade deal with South Korea, struggled to break through and disappointed White House aides.
A year ago, Trump stood at the international rostrum and derided the North Korean leader as “Little Rocket Man” and threatened to “totally destroy North Korea.”
“It was a different world,” Trump said Monday of his one-time moniker for Kim Jong Un. “That was a dangerous time. This is one year later, a much different time.”
Trump praised Kim as “very open” and “terrific,” despite the sluggish pace of progress toward denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in delivered a personal message to Trump from Kim after their inter-Korean talks last week in Pyongyang.
“You are the only person who can solve this problem,” Moon said to Trump, relaying Kim’s words.
The president said the location for a second summit with Kim is still to be determined, but officials have said Trump is holding out hope it could take place on American soil. Such a move would present a complex political and logistical challenge for the North Korean leader. Trump has often fondly invoked the Singapore summit, a made-for-TV event that attracted the world’s media attention and largely received positive marks from cable pundits — reviews that were not repeated for his summit with Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Helsinki the following month.
Trump and Moon on Monday signed a new version of the U.S.-South Korean trade agreement, marking one of Trump’s first successes in his effort to renegotiate economic deals on more favorable terms for the U.S. Trump labeled it a “very big deal” and said the new agreement makes significant improvements to reduce the trade deficit between the countries and create opportunities to export American products to South Korea.
In both venues, U.S. officials say, Trump is expected on Tuesday and Wednesday to offer a contrast between the path of negotiation chosen by North Korea and that of Iran. Trump earlier this year bucked allies and removed the U.S. from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, citing Iran’s malign influence in the region and support for groups like Hezbollah. The next round of tough sanctions on Iran is set to go into effect in November.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is in New York to attend U.N. meetings. U.S. officials said Trump is not seeking a meeting with him but is not opposed to talking if Iran requests a session.
Trump Ordered Melania to Make Salads for Clemson Players
President Donald Trump says he had ordered Melania Trump to make Salads for the hungry Clemson football players salads prepared by the first lady but decided to purchase them McDonald’s Hamburgers instead when he realized it would be more expensive to provide fresh food.
Trump paid for the $2,000 of fast food to the Clemson Tigers when the 2018 College Football Playoff champions visited the White House on Monday evening.
“We ordered American fast food. Paid for by me. Lots of hamburgers, lots of pizza, I think they’d like it better than anything we could give,” Trump told reporters as he arrived at the White House after an out-of-state speech.
“We have some very large people that like eating, so I think we’re gonna have a little fun,” Trump claimed.
President Trump later teased in his remarks that the players “wiped out more food than any human has ever seen before.”
Crazy Evidence that Trump is Working with Russia
The Wall Street Journal’s influential editorial board is known for being hard on presidents … OK, just the even-numbered ones, in recent years. That would be Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. The bible of American finance — whose conservative editorial writers never met a corporate tax cut they didn’t like, or a Democrat that they did — could be ruthless toward the 42nd and 44th presidents, even encouraging some of the loopier conspiracy theories of the Whitewater era.
That’s why it was so jarring last week to see the Rupert Murdoch-owned broadsheet publish an editorial stating, “We cannot recall a more absurd misstatement of history by an American President” — when that president is a Republican, Donald Trump. The WSJ — which maybe isn’t as pro-Trump as that diner in southern Ohio that the New York Times has reported from 6,784 times now, but which generally likes POTUS 45 as long as he’s reducing marginal tax rates or dropping napalm on the Environmental Protection Agency — ripped the current commander in chief in a piece headlined, “Trump’s Cracked Afghan History.”
Yes, it’s a little weird that an editorial board that was nonplussed (or sometimes mildly “concerned”) about Trump’s 7,000-plus other lies, firing of Jim Comey, shredding of the emoluments clause, etc., etc., would wig out about the president’s strange thoughts on an invasion exactly 40 years ago by a country, the USSR, that technically doesn’t exist. But anticommunism both was, and is, central to the Wall Street Journal brand. Let’s hear them out on this one.
The editorial bashed Trump for asserting that Leonid Brezhnev’s USSR was justified in 1979 when it invaded Afghanistan, a move that was so vehemently opposed by the U.S. government that Jimmy Carter imposed an Olympic boycott and reinstituted draft registration for 18-year-olds. That, the Journal argued, was “ridiculous, adding: “The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was a defining event in the Cold War, making clear to all serious people the reality of the communist Kremlin’s threat.”
Here’s the thing. Trump says crazy stuff every day of his presidency. But the Journal was absolutely right to home in on the weirdness and disturbing nature of this particular statement. For one thing, it’s surprising that the usually assertively anti-intellectual Trump has deep — albeit historically incorrect — thoughts about foreign policy in the late ’70s and ’80s, the decade he was busy trying to promote Herschel Walker and bed Marla Maples. Second, not one other person on this side of the Atlantic Ocean holds that notion advanced by the president: that the USSR invasion of Afghanistan was justified or was about anything other than world domination.
But now here’s where it gets much, much weirder — and much more disturbing. Because it turns out there is one prominent set of voices who — just in the last few months — started making the argument that the USSR was right to send those troops into Afghanistan, an action that even Russian higher-ups have conceded even before the USSR’s 1991 collapse was a horrible mistake, politically and morally.
That would be Vladimir Putin and his allies in the Russian government.
It’s doubtful that either you or Donald J. Trump read this online Washington Post opinion piece from Dec. 4 that outlines an otherwise little-reported push by Russian lawmakers allied with Putin for a resolution that would justify their country’s 1979 invasion and reverse an 1989 vote backed by then-USSR leader Mikhail Gorbachev that had condemned it. The Putinists’ goal is to pass the resolution by the 30th anniversary of the Soviet withdrawal, in February.
OK, maybe it’s a coincidence that a babbling Trump — who certainly gives the appearance of saying whatever pops into his mind — just happened to make the same obscure argument as Putin’s minions halfway across the globe. But on Thursday night, I and a couple of other million folks saw a remarkable report by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that tied together some wild threads (for which she credited other journalists such as Vladimir Kara-Murza, author of that Post op-ed, and New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait, as well as her own Steve Benen).
It turns out Trump’s bizarre, historically incorrect Afghanistan riff is part of a pattern in which either the president or his administration has mimicked obscure foreign-policy points linked directly to Putin and/or Russian intelligence ops, and to virtually no one else — certainly not anyone in the American diplomatic community.
The most bizarre such episode happened early in Trump’s presidency. When Mike Flynn — who would later plead guilty to lying to the FBI about his phone calls with Russia’s ambassador — was still Trump’s national security adviser in the first weeks of the new administration, there was this little noticed report from the AP.
“According to one U.S. official, national security aides have sought information about Polish incursions in Belarus, an eyebrow-raising request because little evidence of such activities appears to exist,” the AP reported. “Poland is among the Eastern European nations worried about Trump’s friendlier tone on Russia.” Meanwhile, Putin’s interest in swallowing up Belarus — possibly using the fake “Polish incursions” as a pretext — has only intensified in the two years since the 45th president was sworn in.
Then there’s the strange matter of U.S. policy toward the tiny Balkan nation of Montenegro, which in 2017 became the first new member of NATO in a decade. A few weeks later, Trump caused a lot of head-scratching when he went on Fox News with Tucker Carlson and the president (echoed by Carlson) lashed out at the idea of defending his new NATO ally. “You know, Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people. … They are very aggressive people,” Trump said. “They may get aggressive, and congratulations, you’re in World War III.”
Actually, when it comes to Montenegro, Trump was arguably the “aggressive” one — with the viral clip of POTUS shoving aside the Montenegrin prime minister at a summit meeting two months earlier. Most viewers watched the clip for a laugh. What’s not so funny is that Russian intelligence officers had been involved in a 2016 plot to assassinate Montenegro’s leader — so determined was Putin to prevent the expansion of NATO. A goal that seems to have been shared by the current president of the United States.
These obscure Putin-flavored U.S. maneuvers have happened amid the highly publicized probe by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is tasked with finding out if the Trump campaign somehow colluded with Russia’s spies as they sought to interfere with and alter the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. Although arguably a strong case for collusion has already been revealed, we won’t know the full extent of what he’s uncovered until later this year. None of Team Trump’s arcane moves on Belarus, Montenegro or Afghanistan is conclusive proof of a vast Trump-Russia conspiracy, but …
There’s a famous scene in All the President’s Men where Robert Redford as Bob Woodward says: “If you go to bed at night and there is no snow on the ground, when you wake up there is snow on the ground, you can say it snowed during the night although you didn’t see it, right?” When it comes to U.S. policy toward Russia under Trump, we are waking up to find 6-foot snow drifts outside. Beyond the bizarre echoes of Belarus, Montenegro and Afghanistan, we’ve watched the White House kowtow to Team Putin every chance it gets, from leaving Syria to dropping sanctions on Paul Manafort’s favorite Russian oligarch.
Thursday’s Maddow report was so alarming because it revealed the deep extent to which Trump — at least on Russia policy — is acting as a kind of “Manchurian Candidate” inside America’s seat of power. We don’t know the mechanics of how the Trump administration is receiving and absorbing these ideas like “Polish incursions into Belarus” or “aggressive Montenegro,” but the fact that he’s parroting the Putin line should be alarming enough. It’s one more reason why the nightmare of the Trump presidency needs to end long before January 20, 2021.
Look, I don’t want to see another Cold War, nor do I believe that’s necessary. That said, even those of us who prefer peace to rampant militarism can see that Putin keeps testing the limits of European expansionism — the same kind of aggressive fantasies that brought disastrous consequences within the last century. Putin is also not as strong as he likes the world to think he is. His ambitions can be contained — but only with U.S. policies that support our democratic allies and not the Russian dictator. If we’re not careful on this one, America could wake up from a long slumber with snow up to the second-floor windows, and then congratulations, you’re in World War III.
Trump Fires Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke on Twitter After Ethics Investigations Launched
Ryan Zinke is out as Secretary of the Interior.
Zinke will be leaving the Trump administration at the end of the year; his successor is expected to be announced next week.
On Saturday morning President Trump tweeted that Zinke is leaving after serving for almost two years. He said Zinke has accomplished much during his tenure, and thanked him for his service.
Zinke’s departure comes after a tumultuous two years at the department, marked by mounting allegations of misconduct in office. He also faced the prospect of congressional probes after newly-elected Democrats take majority control of the House.
The former Navy SEAL and one-term Montana congressman showed up for his first day at the Interior Department on horseback, promising to model himself after Theodore Roosevelt, the famed conservationist and 26th president.
“I shall faithfully uphold Teddy Roosevelt’s belief that our treasured public lands are ‘for the benefit and enjoyment of the people’ and will work tirelessly to ensure our public lands are managed and preserved in a way that benefits all Americans for generations to come,” Zinke said in a statement, released during his swearing in.
Zinke’s tenure has been marred by mounting ethics inquiries into his travel and personal financial dealings, among others.
He was vindicated in some cases, including investigations into his use of chartered and military aircraft, whether he improperly attended a GOP fundraiser in the Virgin Islands and whether he shrank the boundaries of a national monument in Utah to help a local Republican official. Others were closed because of lack of cooperation from his agency.
Still others remained, becoming sore points for the administration.
The most glaring centered on a land deal in Zinke’s hometown of Whitefish, Mont., that involved an organization run by Zinke’s wife and the chairman of Halliburton, a giant in the oil and gas industry.
Democrats contend that the land deal constituted a conflict of interest for Zinke.
Mary Kendall, the acting inspector general at Interior, opened an investigation into it last summer, looking at Zinke’s involvement in the deal and whether any taxpayer resources were used to advance the development.
Zinke’s lawyer and spokeswoman have both said that he did nothing improper.
The inspector general is also looking at whether Zinke blocked a proposal from two Connecticut Native American tribes to expand a casino because of political pressure and lobbying from MGM resorts.
Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, a lawyer and longtime lobbyist for the oil and gas industry, is expected to take Zinke’s place.
Bernhardt worked at Interior under George W. Bush as the department’s solicitor. He’s expected to pursue a similar agenda of deregulation on the nation’s public lands.
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