“America First” Means a Retreat From Foreign Conflicts

In a Muted UN Speech, Trump Commits to Pulling Back

Trump addresses the UN General Assembly in New York, September 2019 Carlo Allegri / Reuters

If U.S. President Donald Trump’s address before the UN General Assembly on Tuesday is remembered for anything, it will be for what was not said. Despite the recent attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil installations, which the U.S. government has traced to Iran, Trump avoided talk of retaliatory strikes. His tone was subdued and devoid of the bellicose flourishes that are his trademark. Indeed, compared with Trump’s previous speeches at the UN, this one was unusually measured and his style of delivery less abrasive and confrontational.

The U.S. president’s uncharacteristically tame performance even earned him a modest round of applause—no small accomplishment given the hostile reception he usually gets from the diplomatic community. Members of the audience were clearly relieved: they had expected far worse.

Trump’s monotone and lack of bluster could have been a product of distraction. He was, after all, having a bad day. Just before delivering his UN speech, Trump addressed the gathering storm over his alleged effort to tie military assistance to Ukraine to Kiev’s willingness to dig up political dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden, a top contender for the Democratic presidential nomination. As he engaged the media, Trump sought to deflect charges of abuse of power by suggesting that he had held up the assistance package in order to put pressure on European allies to do more for Ukraine. “I always ask,” he said, “Why aren’t other countries—in Europe, especially—putting up money for Ukraine?” As for the claim that he pressured Ukraine for personal political gain: “I didn’t do it at all,” Trump insisted as he met with Polish President Andrzej Duda.

The bait and switch did not work. By the end of the day, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had announced the launch of a formal impeachment inquiry. A bad day indeed.

But Trump’s unwillingness to beat the war drums on Iran was a product of more than his domestic

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