Anyone who was expecting diplomacy or nuance from Donald Trump in his United Nations speech got a jolt Tuesday morning. Trump appeared before the UN General Assembly as a commander in chief rattling his nuclear sabers.
Trump actually repeated aloud his Twitter reference to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un as “Rocket Man,” telling world leaders in the most important foreign-policy address so far in his presidency that “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself—and for his regime.”
The presidential name-calling shredded any hope for delivering a credible message to the regime that has been taunting its neighbors with missile launches. Trump told the UN, “It is time for North Korea to realize that its denuclearization is its only responsible future.” That was a reasonably well-stated demand. Unfortunately, it will never be so fully noted or fully recalled as the determination of the president of a major nuclear power to employ an Elton John song title for the purpose of poking at the “supreme leader” of a rogue nation that aspires to be a nuclear power.
Nor will the search for a diplomatic solution be advanced by Trump’s griping on Tuesday about the Obama administration’s agreement with Iran to constrain its nuclear program,. “The Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions,” he announced. His suggestion that the agreement was a mistake increased speculation that the deal will soon be scrapped, leading France’s foreign minister to warn about the prospect of a “spiral of proliferation.”
Worse yet, Trump squandered an opportunity to calm fears about his instability by telling the chamber that the United States would, if provoked, obliterate a country of 25 million people.
“The United States has great strength and patience,” Trump said during his first address to the General Assembly. “But if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.”
Key phrase: “totally destroy.”
There will be plenty of reactions from around the world to Trump’s intemperate address. But there should also be a reaction from the US Congress.
Earlier this year, Congressman Ted Lieu, D-California, and Senator Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, introduced House and Senate versions of their “Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017.”