President Donald Trump drew unexpected laughter along with rebukes from world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly this week. Despite their criticisms of the United States, world leaders remained largely pragmatic in their response to the president’s speeches and meetings at the UN.
The laughs came at the start of Trump’s address at UN headquarters in New York on Tuesday after he claimed his administration “has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country.”
Trump immediately smiled and joked, “Didn’t expect that reaction, but that’s OK,” drawing more laughter from delegates to the global body.
The president later claimed the leaders were not laughing at him, but rather, “They were laughing with me. We had fun. That was not laughing at me.”
Trump went on to defend placing national priorities over those of international bodies that he said constrained countries’ abilities to act in their own best interests.
“America is governed by Americans,” he said. “We reject the ideology of globalism, and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism.”
Trump highlighted U.S. exits from the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accords, the decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and his diplomatic outreach to North Korea. He pledged to reevaluate U.S. foreign aid spending to focus on nations that “respect” the United States.
The president’s dismissal of international organizations should play well with his political supporters at home but could “accelerate U.S. diplomatic isolation” and lead to a position of “America Alone,” wrote Stewart Patrick, who studies international institutions for the Council on Foreign Relations.
Words more than their laughter illustrated disagreement with Trump as leader after leader underscored the importance of multilateralism in their own remarks this week to the General Assembly.
“Nationalism always leads to defeat,” French President Emmanuel Macron said, warning of the consequences of the U.S. exit from the Iran nuclear deal and calling for opposition to trade deals with countries that are not part of the international agreement on climate change.
The other parties to the Iran nuclear deal still want to abide by the agreement, and the European Union announced earlier in the week that it would establish a financial workaround for countries doing business with Iran so that they could avoid U.S. sanctions.
Some leaders also expressed concern over Trump’s escalating trade war with China, fearing their countries could be hurt as the world’s two largest economies took aim at each other.
“The consequences will affect those who have had no say, including small countries like Ghana,” said Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo. “These events provide proof, if some were needed, that ours is an interdependent world.” —Anne K. Walters