Why you should care
President Trump holds court this week at the United Nations, and he’s determined to make it must-see TV.
Nikki Haley knows what her boss likes to hear. Donald Trump’s United Nations ambassador, an ambitious and deft politician in her own right who could have loftier goals in mind, was setting the stage for this week’s U.N. Security Council meeting — which for the first time will be chaired by Trump — when she told Fox News: “It will be the most watched Security Council meeting ever, I’m sure.”
The ratings king, after all, has chosen a tantalizing topic for the discussion: Iran. Maybe.
Since Day 1, Trump has taken a more confrontational approach with Iran than his predecessor, the capstone of which was pulling out of a deal Barack Obama championed to limit Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting financial sanctions. Iran’s backing of Shia groups with a propensity for violence — from Lebanon to Syria to Yemen — is destabilizing the Middle East, Trump argues, and must be stopped. Not to mention, Israel sees Iran as an existential threat, and no foreign leader seems as close to Trump as Benjamin Netanyahu.
I will Chair the United Nations Security Council meeting on Iran next week!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 21, 2018
So when the U.S. took hold of the rotating chairmanship of the security council and got the chance to set the meeting agenda, Iran was a natural choice. Or, as Haley put it, the meeting will “address Iran’s violations of international law and the general instability Iran sows throughout the entire Middle East region.” Now, that did not sit so well with Iran — or backers of the nuclear deal, such as France. And it raised the prospect of Iran joining the meeting: Under the U.N. Charter, it has a right to defend itself in such a forum.
So the agenda has now been changed to focus on nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, which could mean any number of countries. But we know what the man with the gavel wants to talk about because he told us on Twitter.
Trump can point to successes here. U.S. sanctions on Iranian oil officially launch in November, and they are already having the preferred bite on Iran — with overseas oil companies falling in line with the U.S. without sending gas prices soaring at home. The rial currency has dropped two-thirds in relation to the dollar this year. (Still, if Trump does in fact want a better nuclear deal, economic hardball with Tehran could hurt his chances.)
Trump’s record is not as good when it comes to the proxy war in Yemen, where the U.S. is backing Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign in a disastrous quagmire of a civil war involving Iran-backed rebels. In Syria, Trump has little influence, as the Iran-backed Assad regime is winning.
Meanwhile, international observers continue to certify that Iran is abiding by the deal to curtail its nuclear program. The remaining countries in the deal — Great Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — are trying to keep the accord alive, including a meeting scheduled for Monday in New York. But they don’t have a ton of leverage if America goes through with secondary sanctions against countries doing business with Iran.
The Islamic Republic this weekend marked the anniversary of the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war with parades — marred by a terrorist attack in the southwestern city of Ahvaz that killed dozens. President Hassan Rouhani, perhaps warming up for his U.N. address Tuesday, warned against any U.S. strike on Iran when speaking at a military parade: “The same will happen to Trump. America will suffer the same fate as Saddam Hussein.” Part of the reasoning Trump used to withdraw from the nuclear deal was Iran’s non-nuclear missile program. “With recent pressure [by] enemies,” Rouhani said, “we appreciate our missiles more than ever.”
Doesn’t sound good. But remember, Trump a year ago drew global gasps when he threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea during his U.N. General Assembly speech. Then he staged a summit with Kim Jong-un, who now earns regular Twitter praise, even as Kim has not yet made any real steps toward giving up his nuclear arsenal.
Trump and Rouhani might meet this week in Manhattan. Now that would be good for ratings.