Trump at the United Nations: A moment to be truly presidential

Trump at the United Nations: A moment to be truly presidential
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The most important thing that President Trump must do when he speaks at the United Nations this week is a matter of style, not substance. He must appear dignified, focused on key issues, stay tightly on message and make it clear that he speaks as the leader of the free world. Trump’s over the top, transactional style, erratic sudden shifts from topic to topic, random assertion of bargaining goals and willingness to grossly oversimplify, even if it means reversing course a few days later, may appeal to elements of his core constituency or base, as well as to his ego.

But his tendency to turn everything into a series of tweets has severely damaged his influence in the United States and plays to America’s enemies and opponents overseas, as well as weakens its credibility and influence over its allies. It is no coincidence that the president has the most impact when he sticks to the kind of structured message that comes out of the advice of the better half of his White House staff and Cabinet figures like his secretary of State, secretary of Defense and National Security adviser.

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These are speeches that influence, rather than simply provoke, and that have credibility, rather than lead to doubt and distrust. Ideally, however, the president should do more than just act diplomatic and stay on message. He should focus on the four key threats to world peace and reassure each set of America’s allies in the process. Being presidential does not mean being weak or failing to send a strong message.

The president should warn about the threat that Russia poses of creating a new Cold War. He should make it clear that the U.S. does want to renew efforts to create a partnership with Russia and has no ambitions to expand NATO or diminish Russian influence. He should also reassure all of America’s allies in the West and in NATO by saying that the U.S. is firmly committed to keeping the peace by supporting their defense, independence and common goals they share in NATO.

Similarly, the president should make it clear that America seeks partnership with China, has no interest or plans in changing the regime in North Korea by force, and is willing to work with North Korea, China, South Korea and Japan to negotiate a new level of security and stability in Asia. He should single out North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs as the key current threat to global peace, and reassure South Korea and Japan that the U.S. stands firmly behind them. He should reassure the rest of the Asian countries that America remains a key partner and will support their security and economic development, and will seek to find new approaches to trade that will serve the common interest of both the U.S. and Asian powers.

The president should make it clear that the United State will remain in the Middle East and continue to to aid its Arab allies, Israel and other key states like Turkey in preserving their security. He should make it clear that the U.S. prefers peaceful and friendly relations with an Iran that does not threaten its neighbors or seek to influence them with arms shipments, military advisors, and proxies. He should make it clear, however, that America will defend each of its allies, deter Iran from military adventures, and counter any return to an active nuclear weapons effort with steps like more formal security guarantees and extended deterrence. He should make it clear that the U.S. will support the independence and stability of every Arab ally, and that the key to peace in the Arab Middle East is cooperation rather than rivalry, embargoes and bickering.

Finally, he should raise the common threat of terrorism, extremism and instability. He should state that all of the nations and government in the world have a common interest in the stability and development of other states, in creating governments and economic that serve their people, and in rejecting any form of religious, ethnic and racial extremism and violence. He should cite Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan as warnings of what happens when government fail their people and extremism brings on war. He should make it clear that the U.S. is ready to work will all major powers in provide support in both counterterrorism and in bringing stability through better governance, economic progress and social equity.

Above all, President Trump should inspire and reassure, rather than threaten or bluster. He should speak as a global leader and not to a narrow constituency in just America. He should begin to establish the kind of image and leadership that will lead him to achieve his most important goals, rather than divide and alienate those around the world.

Anthony H. Cordesman holds the Arleigh A. Burke chair in strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. He has served as a consultant on Afghanistan to the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of State.