It was a casual, throwaway remark that gave the first hint of Donald Trump’s take on the United Nations since he became president-elect. The UN was virtually unmentioned in the 2016 election campaign, but he is making up for that now. “The United Nations has such great potential,” he tweeted the day after Christmas in another signal of how he intends to conduct foreign policy, “but right now it is just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad.”
The stunning and dismissive insult is circulating around the world, not only in UN offices but also in foreign ministries and international media. It adds to the mounting apprehension and palpable fear of what is to come from what could be the most hostile government in Washington that the UN has ever faced, in both the White House and in a right-wing Republican-led Congress itching to diminish the role of the organization and bankrupt many of its programs and services.
Trump’s appointed national-security adviser, Michael Flynn, one of several generals now in positions of influence, was forced to from his job as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency because of his management style; he was described by some who knew him as “disruptive” and strongly opinionated. He has already flaunted one of his peeves about the UN. A visceral anti-Muslim religious bigot who apparently doubts that Islam is even a religion, he retweeted an accusation from social media last year that the UN’s new global-development policies would ultimately lead to the banning of Christianity. In leaked e-mails that Colin Powell has acknowledged were authentic, he called Flynn a “jerk” and “nutty.”
Spurred on by this ethos fostered by Trump, critics of organizations such as UNESCO and the US Fund for UNICEF are targeting them in online misinformation, forcing them to refute the stories publicly.
Suspicion is growing that Flynn may be behind Trump’s attacks on US intelligence agencies because of a grudge against James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, whom he apparently blamed for being behind his abrupt departure from the Defense Department.
The incoming chief White House strategist and senior counselor will be Stephen Bannon, the former executive chairman of the Breitbart News Network and the website Breitbart News, which has been variously described as indulging in white-supremacist, anti-foreign, and anti–multicultural propaganda. He would not likely become a defender of the UN.
Bannon, one of a number of Trump appointees who are alumni of Goldman Sachs, which Trump once loudly reviled as a candidate, brought Trump’s election campaign strategy to a very low level of civility well beyond the bounds of diplomacy. Kellyanne Conway, the Trump campaign manager, who will be a senior adviser in the White House, has lost all credibility among most commentators knowledgeable about the UN and international affairs for her blanket defense of Trump’s offensive tweets and uninformed policy pronouncements.