Rhetoric redefines US' global role

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Trump's UN speech on Tuesday leaves allies bewildered at the change that has gripped the superpower

UNITED NATIONS: United States President Donald Trump's debut speech at the United Nations (UN) featured plenty of sabre-rattling, but it also showed glimmers of a Trump doctrine that could transform the country's place in the world.

Mr Trump's speech was described as a "42-minute tweetstorm" and former president George W. Bush's "axis of evil" speech on steroids.

His rhetoric - dubbing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un a "rocket man" on a "suicide mission" - was lapped up by supporters, but it left allies around the world bewildered.

He made it clear he wants to turn the clock back on the last half-century's growth of global rules and global institutions and return to the primacy of the US.

His remarks used the words "sovereign" or "sovereignty" 21 times - rhetoric more often deployed in modern times by China to deflect criticism of a domestic crackdown.

Aides said Mr Trump's call for a strong US was not a rejection of multilateralism but a rejection of a globalism that dilutes the will of the people.

Allies were left with a renewed sense that "America First" will mean the US alone.

"In America, we do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to watch," Mr Trump said.

His top advisers billed the address as "deeply philosophical".

For the White House, that idea is a useful counterpoint to critics who say Mr Trump has no intellectual heft and is beginning to build an ideological legacy that could survive beyond one presidency.

But it also reflects the continued influence of nationalist ideas inside the White House, even after the departure of controversial aide Steve Bannon.

Washington's foreign policy establishment pointed to contradictions that put a question mark over the creation of any cohesive "Trump doctrine".

While insisting that the US will no longer build democracies, Mr Trump called for democracy to prevail in Iran and Venezuela.

He trashed the deal to curb Iran's nuclear programme, but the White House has offered no clear attainable alternative beyond extending it in perpetuity.

US officials privately admit that any military option against North Korea would be potentially disastrous for allies in South Korea.


"He comes across as a man with no plan," said Mr Thomas Wright of the Brookings Institution.

Above all, Mr Trump's critics question whether the clock can be rolled back to philosophies that dominated the less globalised world of the early 1900s.

"Sovereignty in our era fundamentally requires close cooperation with other nations and with strong global institutions, which President Trump rejects," said Mr Barry Pavel, a veteran of Republican and Democratic administrations who is now with the Atlantic Council.

Even Mr Trump's closest lieutenants have - without directly contradicting him - shaved off the rougher edges of his rhetoric.

And, so far, his actions do not entirely match his words. He has ripped up a trans-Pacific trade pact, but has not wrecked the Iran nuclear accord by reintroducing sanctions.

That may change in the coming months, as his team transposes speeches like that at the UN or in Warsaw and Riyadh into a formal National Security Strategy. - AFP

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