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What Trump's Speech At The U.N. Revealed About Current American Foreign Policy

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In his big address at the U.N. yesterday, world leaders assembled and listening, President Trump kicked off like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country. America's - so true.

(LAUGHTER)

TRUMP: Didn't expect that reaction, but that's OK.

(LAUGHTER)

KELLY: President Trump then took on the rest of the world, outlining his approach to Syria, China and Iran among other countries. The clear theme was "America First." To talk more about what the speech revealed about the current state of American foreign policy, we are joined by Vali Nasr. He's the dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and he's here in our studio. Welcome.

VALI NASR: Thank you.

KELLY: What did you make of that moment at the start, which - it's a little hard to hear, but that was laughter greeting President Trump's remarks.

NASR: Well, I think it shows that the shock and awe that the world felt when he first went to the United Nations and used very bombastic language to lay out his case against North Korea and the case for withdrawing from the world order has been...

KELLY: Rocket Man and so forth.

NASR: So forth - has now been replaced with entertainment and levity. This is not being taken seriously.

KELLY: Did you hear a break - a radical break from where U.S. presidents have been before? I mean, as you well know, the pendulum swings in foreign policy. President Trump is not the first one to make the case that America needs to focus on solving problems at home before it goes and solves the problems of the rest of the world.

NASR: That's all acceptable. But President Trump is outrightly hostile to the notion that multilateralism, working together with others, giving a little from yourself to the world would actually be beneficial to everybody. And what is beneficial to everybody is ultimately good for the United States. I mean, he's basically going against these ideas altogether.

KELLY: Let me push back on that. Or better yet, let me let the secretary general of NATO push back on that. We had Jens Stoltenberg on the show yesterday. His interpretation was that "America First" doesn't have to mean America alone. He's not persuaded that's where President Trump is going. He sees an America that is still very much engaged. What do you think?

NASR: Well, I'm not persuaded by that argument. I think "America First" doesn't mean America alone so long as the rest of the world is willing to pay America for security, is willing to give up surpluses that they have with the U.S. in trade and is willing to follow every whim and wish of the United States as is the case, for instance, with following the lead on the new Iran nuclear deal. Where I think is the problem is that the United States under President Trump is not willing to even acknowledge that it may have to do one or two things that it doesn't like or that it - costs it because it might be better for somebody else. So if NATO or Europe are willing to play that game, then America's not alone.

KELLY: Let me turn you to Iran, your area of expertise. Here's a little bit of what President Trump had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Iran's leaders sow chaos, death and destruction. They do not respect their neighbors or borders or the sovereign rights of nations.

KELLY: Lest we were in doubt after that, what he thinks of Iran, he also called it a brutal regime. He called it a corrupt dictatorship. What did you hear in that section of the speech?

NASR: Well, I thought that he definitely wants to raise the rhetorical pressure on Iran.

KELLY: He didn't personalize it, though. We're referencing the Rocket Man speech of North Korea last year.

NASR: Well, actually, to the contrary, he started the day by calling the Iranian president a lovely man. But I think he went down a litany of charges against Iran which are not new. And he also accused Iran of things that he very well tolerates of other world leaders and allies. Iran is not the only brutal country, is not the only corrupt country, is not the only one in the Middle East or elsewhere that is engaged in military or political activities outside of its border. So it sort of was almost tantamount to name-calling without actually believing in the values that should inform American foreign policy. It almost was more like, I'm just going to use these things because I don't like Iran. And I'm just going to use these things to pressure them. But it lacked the kind of pressure that he even applied on North Korea. And I think it betrays the fact that he wants to talk to Iran.

KELLY: That's Vali Nasr, dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Thanks very much.

NASR: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.