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Trump’s U.N. speech huffs and puffs

Trump to United Nations: ‘Rocket Man is on a suicide mission’

President Trump in his first speech to the United Nations referred to North Korea leader Kim Jong Un as a "rocket man," and said the United States, if forced to defend itself and its allies, is "willing and able" to take military action.
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President Trump in his first speech to the United Nations referred to North Korea leader Kim Jong Un as a "rocket man," and said the United States, if forced to defend itself and its allies, is "willing and able" to take military action.

Some of President Trump’s advisers were doubtless on pins and needles as the day approached Trump’s first speech to the United Nations General Assembly. Such debuts by presidents are occasions for preaching unity, for calming those ambassadors and foreign policy advisers around the globe who are uncertain about a new president.

Alas, the president could not resist a boastful, threatening speech reminiscent of his bombast on the campaign trail. He threatened the “total destruction” of North Korea should that nation and its peculiar leader, Kim Jong Un, not stop the drive toward nuclear weapons.

A get-tough approach on North Korea and calling for support from other nations is appropriate, but the president shows his utter lack of savvy about foreign affairs in talking about “total destruction.” North Korea is close to Russia and China, and any kind of “total destruction” would also create millions of casualties in South Korea. Trump even tossed in his favorite moniker for Kim Jong Un, “Rocket Man,” a nickname more appropriate behind the closed doors of the Oval Office than the headquarters of the U.N.

And Trump of course attacked “radical Islamic terrorism,” a term he uses primarily to inflame his political opponents. He also said some places in the world were “going to hell.” Again, not appropriate for a maiden voyage with representatives of nations all around the globe.

Trump in particular needed to “make a good impression” in order to calm world leaders understandably nervous about a president with no foreign relations experience beyond building golf courses overseas.

Trump did at least back off of his attacks on the U.N. that were a predictable staple of his campaign speeches. He preached a little unity, while vowing the United States would support the United Nations, though he believes the organization’s bureaucracy is too large and that other member nations need to do more to support it.

He may be right on some points, but Trump is all about pushing the envelope, about engaging in rhetorical excess to draw attention to himself, to appear to be the toughest kid on the playground.

The United Nations is no place for that. And while the president’s excessive comments didn’t throw world leaders into a tailspin, he clearly went beyond what his advisers, led by Chief of Staff John Kelly, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, would have preferred that he do.

Interestingly, the president didn’t talk about Russia much. He has made clear his longtime admiration for Russia leader Vladimir Putin, but the “Russia probe” into possible involvement of that nation in trying to manipulate the 2016 presidential election in Trump’s favor may be tying the president’s rhetorical hands these days.

In these moments, Donald Trump needs to stick to the script crafted for him by people who know more than he about foreign affairs. The time for campaign rallies and battle cries and bombast has passed.

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