A Recap of the United Nations General Assembly with Stewart Patrick

A Recap of the United Nations General Assembly with Stewart Patrick

U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 25, 2018. Carlo Allegri/Reuters
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Stewart M. Patrick, senior fellow in global governance and director of the International Institutions and Global Governance (IIGG) Program at the Council on Foreign Relations, joins James M. Lindsay to discuss the impact of the United Nations General Assembly.

James M. Lindsay

Senior Vice President, Director of Studies, and Maurice R. Greenberg Chair

Stewart M. Patrick

James H. Binger Senior Fellow in Global Governance and Director of the International Institutions and Global Governance Program

LINDSAY: Welcome to The President's Inbox, a CFR podcast about the foreign policy challenges facing the United States. I'm Jim Lindsay, Director of Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This week's topic is America First at the U.N. General Assembly. Joining me this week to discuss President Trump's second appearance before the U.N. General Assembly is Stewart Patrick. Stewart is the James H. Binger senior fellow in Global Governance and Director of the International Institutions and Global Governance Program at CFR. His areas of expertise include multilateral cooperation on global issues, U.S. policy toward international institutions and the challenges posed by fragile and post conflict states. He is the author of The Sovereignty Wars: Reconciling America With the World. Stewart, thanks for joining me today.

 

PATRICK: Great to be here Jim.

 

LINDSAY: What is your takeaway from this week's U.N. General Assembly meeting?

 

PATRICK: This was a second helping of America First for his audience and I think by now they had had a taste of what was going to come. The takeaway is that the president really is doubling down on that message. And yet the international implications of that are a little uncertain for the United States because there hasn't really been a lot of a positive agenda the president has been presenting, and it's hard to know whether he's going to get his way for instance on Iran and other issues if he's not a little bit more forthcoming. You know the last year has been a really tough one I think for U.S. relations. In his first appearance, last year, for the president, I think expectations were reasonably low and people were really on edge as to what he was going to say. But he actually exceeded expectations and you know notwithstanding the idea that that he was going to confront Little Rocket Man, et cetera. He actually, you know, endorsed the UN's reform agenda that the Secretary General had done and he seemed like somebody that people could do business with. I think over the last year it's been really tough. The the administration has repeatedly pulled out of certain international initiatives and left the Human Rights Council. It's pulled out of the Joint Conference, a plan of action on Iran, it decided not to sign up for a U.N. convention on Great Migration which is basically pretty banal and benign thing. And the president, I think, really felt compelled to justify why the United States was taking this these stances when he got up there and, you know, he didn't use the word sovereignty 21 times, this time - probably about a dozen times, he used it 21 times in his first appearance.

 

LINDSAY: That was good for you! It came out right about that time, the sovereignty stuff.

 

PATRICK: But you know as always excellent excellent excellent timing. I did not pay the speechwriters anything for that. But no, you - I think it really sort of reaffirmed some of the theses in my book which is that - look, for a huge proportion - or a large proportion, I would say - of the American public, it's certainly Donald Trump's base, there's a sense that there's sort of a sucker's narrative going on here that the United States has been taken advantage of by international alliances by organizations like the World Trade Organization by the United Nations for countries that are basically freeloading on U.S. efforts, and that we don't really have as much of a dog in this fight as as other previous predecessors as thought we thought we have. And so he's basically saying 'look, we're going to defend American national interests and we're not going to allow ourselves to be controlled by some global bureaucracy', which is his vision of the United Nations and other organizations. And, you know, if something there aren't on our terms we're going to leave, we're going to walk. And so he's putting the world on notice. The speech also hit very strongly - as he did today in in the special session of the U.N. Security Council devoted to weapons of mass destruction - he hit Iran very very strongly. So if last year North Korea was in crosshairs, boy, this year Iran is.

 

LINDSAY: I want you to assess me Trump's critique of multilateralism, or what he called the "ideology of globalism", but before we do that maybe we should sort of take care of the story that got a lot of attention from the speech, in many places led to a conversation - certainly on Twitter, it lit it up, and that was effected very early on in the speech: the president was speaking, and he was boasting about what he accomplished in his 18 months, 20 months as president and members of the audience laughed. How significant is the fact that he - his speech elicited that kind of reaction early on?

 

PATRICK: You know, I think in the grand scheme of things it's not all that - I don't think it's that important. It certainly would be embarrassing for the president. I think it does show a couple of things. First of all it was odd that he began this speech with what sounded like a State of the Union address.

 

LINDSAY: Or one of his arena-style speeches.

 

PATRICK: I expected him say know going to one of his jobs - yeah, arena style speeches. So that was part of it. It sort of that was clanging with his audience I think. The other aspect, though, is that this was not an arena type speech because he was talking to a bunch of international leaders, world leaders, who were not inclined to necessarily be favorably disposed to him to begin with. And so I think, you know, he wasn't of adoring throngs. We know that within Cabinet meetings and other settings as well, you know, he likes to have - he likes to be reinforced and he likes to be validated. And I think it is undoubtedly jarring for him to see people just laugh because the comment was, on its face, a little braggadocious, to use president's own phrase. and it

 

LINDSAY: It's a pretty high standard to meet when you say "best start of any president".

 

PATRICK: Exactly, I mean what one thinks about FDR, or other people who had their first 100 days be relatively historic. And so it might be a little hard to put Donald Trump in that in that category yet.

 

LINDSAY: OK. So I - I agree, I think that a lot of the narrative about the reaction in the audience was overblown, but the president did lay down, as you've correctly explained, a critique of multilateralism. But I also know from reading your books and we're colleagues - why do you think he's wrong?

 

PATRICK: Well I think he's wrong because he sets up this false - what I consider a false - opposition between sovereignty - that is, having your constitutional independence and being able to determine your fate as a nation - and multilateralism or international organizations and the point that I make is that the decision of the United States to join international organizations like the United Nations and be a part of it -

 

LINDSAY: Not only join it, we champion it.

 

PATRICK: Champion, that's great, right. This is an American idea. Or to sign up for an international treaty, like the Chemical Weapons Convention for instance, or to be a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency. The United States, is not doing - by doing so, it's not sacrificing its sovereignty provided it's done by democratic means and constitutional provisions, it's actually an embodiment of that sovereignty. It's basically a choice that says 'look, we can fulfill the popular will of the American people as mediated by their elected representatives better if we actually join this international organization'. There is a - So there's no real trade-off, which is the one that that sovereigntists, diehard sovereigntists, of of the likes of John Bolton, the National Security Adviser and others - there's no real tradeoff. They talk about this a lot. There's no - they claim that there is that somehow U.S. constitutional independence is sacrificed, the "sovereignty as authority" I would call it, when you join international organizations.

 

LINDSAY: Well that's certainly an argument John Bolton, President Trump's National Security Adviser, has been making for decades.

 

PATRICK: It is one, and there are a couple - in a couple of cases he's right. Were the United States - the International Criminal Court, which John Bolton went after a couple of weeks ago very very strongly - that is one of the very few international institutions that would actually sacrifice some sovereign constitutional authority on the part of United States because it would allow an independent prosecutor, an independent tribunal, to in a sense pass judgments on whether or not the United States had done a good job investigating alleged war crimes by its own people. So he's onto something there.

 

LINDSAY: The United States is not a part of the ICC.

 

PATRICK: That's right, we're not a party of the ICC and in fact Bill Clinton, after he signed the Rome Statute of the ICC, he said "I don't recommend that the Senate ratify this without some changes". So there's been some bipartisan-

 

LINDSAY: So we're sort of kind of in, kind of out?

 

PATRICK: Well then John Bolton of course unsigned it, and so our relationship with the ICC has been - it's been up and down, even during the George W. Bush administration though by the second term we were actually collaborating with it, to some degree. We referred the case of Omar Bashir, the Sudanese leader -

 

LINDSAY: We liked it when it was aligned with our interest, and we don't like it when it's not aligned with our interests.

 

PATRICK: Right, right, exactly, and what we really would like is to have it be under Security Council control. Now that being said, the critique of John Bolton and others is is really focused on the ICC because they know that that it's basically the only institution, one of the only institutions, that actually could conceivably validate their thesis. The other institutions that we join, it's very important to realize are these are horizontal, intergovernmental arrangements among sovereign independent states. And that's true about the United Nations and it's true about the World Trade Organization and many others.

 

LINDSAY: So what's the cost, or are there costs, to this America First policy, this dislike for multilateralism and this elevation of what appears to be nationalism?

 

PATRICK: Yes I think there are. One of them is that if you end up abdicating the situation, if you're no longer there, it used to be that the United States was, in Madeleine Albright's phrase seen as "the indispensable power". Right, well, the problem is now is that first of all, you leave a vacuum that can be then occupied by others. And sometimes their intentions are not good. So for instance, if the United States leaves the U.N. Human Rights Council - which we have - and had made some headway within to improving that body not least on, you know, holding Iran to account in terms of some of its human rights abuses or where other countries are abusing their citizens. If we leave, then that lets China, for instance, or Russia, for instance, have much more influence within that body. And that's why the Europeans among others appealed to the United States not to take this move. The other issue which we've seen is that other countries are no longer sitting still. It used to be that if the United States was not a party to some collective action then then it was going to fall apart. But we've seen in a number of cases, not least the Paris climate change accord, that there the U.S. has absented itself as has the the Syrian government the only two countries that are actually no longer in the Paris Agreement.

 

LINDSAY: I think Syria's actually come back - or joined, along with Nicaragua.

 

PATRICK: Right, exactly. But what you have is a situation there where the rest of the world is going forward. And the danger here, I think, is not only that the United States isn't leading, it's that it's on the sidelines and not getting its way. And a good example of this is the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with respect to Iran. It was fascinating this week that, you know, obviously the United States pulled out over the desperate and urgent entreaties of Germany, France, and Britain, which are all three signatories to that agreement along with Iran, and then of course Russia and China. Well, on Monday evening, those five countries - that is, excepting Iran - actually all got together and signed a document saying "look, not only do we still support this agreement with Iran because we think it's the best way to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, but in addition to that Russia can create a parallel financial mechanism that allows Iran to be able to sell its oil and importantly allows European companies to get, in a sense, get financial returns for their investments in Iran". And this is an effort to basically say look, the United States may have withdrawn it may have exempted itself from this agreement but it's still going on and I think this is the sort of thing that we are probably going to see in the future if the United States just takes its ball and goes home.

 

LINDSAY: But on the specific example of this alternative mechanism for allowing Iran to do business or allowing Europeans to do business in Iran, what I hear from most experts on this is that that effort's not going to work because if you're a European firm you're looking at an Iranian market measured in the billions, versus an American market measured in the trillions. And there's no way you're going to risk a big market like America's and to do business with Iran if there's even a small possibility you could run afoul of U.S. law.

 

PATRICK: Yeah, I think that there's no question the United States is going to be able to use its market leverage in this regard. We've seen examples of that, certainly in recent weeks - the most recently Volkswagen for instance - made the calculation, probably a wise calculation, from the bottom line that look we're not going to be in Iran because we have such such a big stake in the U.S. market, and that certainly will happen in the future. But I think in terms of weakening allied solidarity - and the U.S. and European, in a sense, confidence in American leadership - I think there are also some other knock-on effects. The Europeans are increasingly hedging against the possibility that, particularly given things that the administration has said about the Western alliance, that maybe they need they need to formulate their own national security and defense policy either as an entity or as independent countries. Again, I'm not sure that Donald Trump would think that that's a terrible thing.

 

LINDSAY: But look let's sort of drill down on that, because one of the arguments for the United States to assert itself is this conception that Gullivers should not allow the Lilliputians to tie him down, and that America is the most powerful country in the world and it should throw its weight around and demanding outcomes that it wants, and at the end of the days - so this thinking goes - is that our friends and allies don't really have anywhere else to go. Why isn't that a correct assessment?

 

PATRICK: Yeah I think they do have elsewhere to go, and what that does ignore is the fact that for a relatively modest expense the U.S. global alliance system has basically created a situation in which the United States has assets in terms of support in extremists all around the world that has extraordinary global influence and it's helped to be the handmaiden, in a sense, of globalization, this alliance structure, and it just will not be listened to as much in international councils as it has before and I think it accelerates this situation where you - for instance, you get on global trade, Donald Trump having launched his trade war and in particular the indiscriminate attack not just focusing on China where there are obviously a lot of objections, but in fact putting on these steel and aluminum tariffs. It created a situation where you got this alignment of the Europeans and the Chinese, who had their first summit in two years this summer where they got together and said we stand for the rules based trading order and we don't believe that unilateral action should be taken against it. The problem with with this sort of this sort of indiscriminate unilateralism is that in that case, you're taking the eye off the ball of who is the real troublemaker, which is in a sense China which has indeeda - and here I believe - I mean I'm actually sympathetic with a lot of the critique that the president made - but you're instead of keeping the spotlight on, in a sense, the bad actor here what you've done is you've helped make China appear to be a champion of globalization and you've brought them closer to the Europeans so you know we may get a little bit more freedom of action in a notional sense, but we also will be increasingly isolated and we're not going to have help and friends when we want to push our preferences.

 

LINDSAY: I think the impact of the president's action, and maybe more importantly his rhetoric, is easy to see in the trade realm, where the president has railed against the WTO World Trade Organization, he's railed against multilateral trade deals, pulled the United States out of TPP Trans-Pacific Partnership with the expectation that he would then be able to do bilateral deals. And what we've seen is that America's friends and trading partners have just gone about their business. They're not interested in doing bilateral trade deals with the United States because they realize that's how the United States would maximize its bargaining leverage. So we have the TPP 11 emerge out of the TPP and I think one of the most remarkable things is Canada now has a minister for trade diversification because the Canadians realize that President Trumps approach is to, in essence, single them out apply maximum pressure on them. Canada is very integrated into the American economy and as long as that persists, Canada is going to have a weakened bargaining leverage start reaching out finding new people to trade with.

 

PATRICK: Let me pick up on that because I think that there are a couple of examples here in the trade realm where if you look at the big picture, the Trump administration is making some miscalculations. One of them it has to do with perhaps the president's lack of awareness with respect to the WTO dispute resolution mechanism which is a binding mechanism. Some, including John Bolton, have said "well that's a violation of American sovereignty because we have to go along with it." Now the misconception of the president has - he says we've never won a case in front of the World Trade Organization when in fact 90 percent of the cases that the United States has brought to the World Trade Organization it's actually won. Now it's true it hasn't won some cases that others have done, but that's because it was found to be in breach of some of the WTO regulations. And you know the United States under WTO can still keep those discriminatory measures it just has to allow compensatory action on the part of others. With respect to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, coming out of that, I think one can make the argument that huge material gains were sacrificed because it was going to be about at about 500 billion dollars to the 12 members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and about a third of those would have gone to the United States, and by getting out of it you leave basically the big trading entity now in the Pacific is this Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership that China is leading and what it does is it just increases the the economic gravitational pull that China exerts to countries in the region. The other thing is that other countries are not, as you pointed out, standing still. The EU has negotiated a free trade agreement with with Japan and is considering one with Mercosur which is the big South American trading bloc. So I agree that you know there may be a few bilateral arrangements at the margins - for instance, during the U.N. General Assembly the United States renegotiated slight revisions to KORUS, which is the Korean -

 

LINDSAY: He signed the agreement, we announced this agreement principle back in the spring, so they're getting credit twice.

 

PATRICK: Right, right, exactly.

 

LINDSAY: And I want to bring this back to the conversation that was actually taking place at UNGA this week. One of the things the president singled out for criticism, and it's related to multilateralism, is global governance and he's opposed to global governance. Now you run a program called International Institutions and Global Governance. What was your reaction to the president's critique?

 

PATRICK: Well my reaction was - partly it depends on how you define global governance. I basically see it as multilateral cooperation largely done by sovereign states but basically with an admixture of nongovernmental organizations and international networks. If the president conceives of global governance as in a sense a world government -

 

LINDSAY: I thought he was using it in that sense, that governance meant government.

 

PATRICK: Yeah except for it's meant government. Exactly. I think that's a problem. Global governance is just sort of a term of ours, and perhaps a clumsy one, but basically that's used to describe how do you provide some sort of predictability and order in an international system that doesn't have a world government, and you don't want it to have a world government because there's no guarantee it wouldn't be just despotic.

 

LINDSAY: And there's problems that spill over borders, you may have issues of how to coordinate what countries you're doing.

 

PATRICK: Exactly, so whether or not it's technology standards or trying to fight against terrorism or -

 

LINDSAY: Or making sure planes don't fly into each other in the sky.

 

PATRICK: Right exactly.

 

LINDSAY: Ensure mail gets delivered across borders.

 

PATRICK: Right, and a lot of this stuff is really very technical and not particularly political. I think the difficulty is that people have an assumption that the United Nations or many other international organizations are in a sense a form of world government, or that - and this is particularly a hobbyhorse of John Bolton's - is that the notion that somehow the United States - their nightmare scenario is the United States somehow gets embedded in sort of a global equivalent of the European Union, which frankly speaking does have supranational or higher relationships of hierarchical authority, in other words members of the European Union to some degree have to kowtow to what what the European Commission says or the European Court of Human Rights, etc. Fortunately we do not have that problem and we never will have that problem because Americans are quite attached to popular sovereignty. So I think it's it's sort of a bogeyman to sort of put it out there and suggest that somehow we're increasingly in thrall to these under the heavy yoke of international organizations.

 

LINDSAY: The fact that you can pick up a phone and call a family member or a friend who is overseas, it's because we have global governance because in essence you're trying to coordinate and harmonize, and I don't think that the president is going after that. But the word sort of conjures up for many people, again would you say to this one world government.

 

PATRICK: Right exactly, some sort of a dark scenario. What was interesting was that the president went on quite a bit about how "look we have to remember we're all independent nations and each of us has our own unique heritage," etc. and for a while during the speech it sounded like that was that was sort of a plea for tolerant pluralism, right? "Hey you do your thing I'll do mine and let's not worry about that". But other aspects of the speech, particularly the focus on strong borders and building up walls and things like that, and some of the other language he used, was a little bit like the speech that he gave in Warsaw last year which had sort of a blood and soil component to it. The notion that the nation state is something sort of organic and never changes, and the president I think was making an appeal here to what sometimes has been called the "nationalist internationale", if you will. Obviously populism and nationalism are on the rise, not just in the United States but have been on the rise in Europe. And I think that when you look at Viktor Orban's Hungary for instance or the current Polish government -

 

LINDSAY: And you see he singled the polls out in the end of his speech.

 

PATRICK: Indeed, very much so. It was interesting using the polls. He singled the Saudis out as well. But he but also the Indians -

 

LINDSAY: For praise, I should say not craze.

 

PATRICK: Right exactly. Exactly. AndI think that there is this underlying sense that not only is this a sovereignty-minded philosophy, but it's also a philosophy in which there's something organic about the actual nation and it makes it separate and different from others. And I think to some degree you can go down that road. I think that the difficulty is that when you try to imbue particular countries into sort of too many stereotypical qualities it can often lead to, I guess I would say uglier forms of nationalism.

 

LINDSAY: I think you're right that the beginning of the speech sort of framed sovereignty in an implicit live and let live kind of way. By the time you get to the back end of the speech where the president was clearly criticizing other countries, most notably Venezuela, for its own internal politics. So it's a little bit hazy about how this sovereignty first and foremost concept really operates, and how much is a matter of taste.

 

PATRICK: Right exactly. It also has to be said - and this was also a similar to to the speech last year - there was no question that the president was far stronger about the need to defend American sovereignty than to necessarily to defend the sovereignty of others because it really is sort of live and let live. Then you wouldn't be criticizing countries that abuse their populations, which he was.

 

LINDSAY: Yeah, that's - implicitly recognizing a problem that people in international relations struggle with, which is if you take sovereignty to the extreme then you end up watching or sitting on the sidelines where truly terrible things happen. And that's how we got to the whole issue of responsibility to protect, again the old flag. Richard Haass, president the Council on Foreign Relations, his book A World in Disarray in which he talks about you need to have this notion of sovereign obligation that governments not only have rights, but they have obligations and one of those is to make sure their people don't get abused - this is actually a fairly complicated thing where reasonable people can disagree where to draw the dividing lines between respecting sovereignty and having legitimate reasons to override it.

 

PATRICK: Absolutely. Another thing that I think struck that really struck me about this speech and again it was last year's as well was the degree to which this president compared to his predecessors, both Republican and Democratic, was not really speaking at all to in a sense the the broader purposes of the United Nations. Normally presidents have used that as a bully pulpit, and I used pulpit advisedly there to deliver a bit of a sermon about why this organization needs to spend more time focusing on human rights or why this organization needs to spend time dealing with fighting poverty or fighting disease. Certainly George W. Bush did that because he was very interested in both of those topics. More in the case of Barack Obama, "Look we really need this organization and we all need to join to fight the battle of climate change."

 

LINDSAY: Which went unmentioned in President Trump's speech.

 

PATRICK: Indeed, indeed. And so there is this there were these sort of big gaffes - I mean if you're in the audience and you're a member of the Paris Climate Accord and you don't hear anything about that, or let's say you're a poor country which really depends on development aid but also trade to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. You're waiting to hear what the president has to say about that and frankly the only thing that he said about foreign aid I thought was quite telling. He said "look for too long, just in the same way that our allies have been free riding on our efforts, for too long we've been giving foreign aid to countries that aren't necessarily being friendly to us. And so from now we're only going to give it to those that share share our values or do, do -

 

LINDSAY: So a loyalty test.

 

PATRICK: A loyalty test, in a sense. And the difficulty with that is again Richard Haass, our president, pointed out in a tweet this week he said aid is used for a bunch of different things and sometimes it's used for rewarding allies and supporting those for instance that share our geopolitical objectives - Egypt and Israel for instance - and sometimes it is given because we want to fight disease, we want to reduce human suffering,, and we want to help people attain prosperity. And so I think at least in the history of American foreign assistance there's been a lot of different reasons why we give aid.

 

LINDSAY: I think you put your finger on a broader issue that distinguishes Donald Trump from his predecessors. Again I think Barack Obama, I think George W. Bush, I think Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan - I can go back quite a long way certainly to Harry Truman where American presidents were accustomed to thinking and talking about America's role in the world in terms of leading. The United States was going to lead, we're a leader of the free world. And when they would go to UNGA they would present a speech that was basically about the issues out there where America was seeking to lead. Donald Trump very seldom talks about American leadership, he talks about winning. And you can see it in this speech notion as the United States has been, as you pointed out earlier, taken advantage of by its friends and allies and that's now going to stop because America's going to win again. So his vision of the purpose of American foreign policy is quite different. It's not continuous with what we have seen from President Truman through Obama, even given the quite very real disagreements among all of those presidents in terms of what should be policy priorities, how to tackle problems and the like, this is a fundamentally different way of looking at America's role in the world. It is, in some sense, if you want to put it in these phrases, trading in internationalism for nationalism.

 

PATRICK: Yes I very much agree. I think it's, you know, in historical terms it's very much sort of a pre-nineteen or pre-Pearl Harbor mindset, I think if you will. And it's no accident of course that the president has used the phrase "America first" both in the campaign and then as president, because it's one that really doesn't - it sees the United States in a sense having a very different vocation, and that vocation is much more domestic and putting our own house in order. If you want to take the charitable view of it, we should we should focus on on our problems here at home and in a sense we should be a little bit more like a normal country. The question is whether or not the American public is still wedded to a notion of American exceptionalism that has a special role in the world or is more comfortable with in a sense what the president is offering which is exemptionalism. We actually would like to exempt ourselves from a number of these things and frequently go our own way but I'm really struck by this president's - whether it's lack of appreciation or the fact that he just has other priorities. He doesn't have a sense that you need to invest in this system. There's a great strategist who wrote in the 1950s, Arnold Wolfers, who talked about the thing about the United States in the post-war period that it recognized it needed to do was to invest in what he called 'milieu goals'. It's not just the transactional goals, it's 'what have you done for me lately today'. But it's also 'what can I do now to make the entire system work better' and it's sort of, you know, the concept of international order can be a little nebulous and seems sort of vague, but the idea is 'can we lay down some some predictable principles of the ways countries should behave with one another and can we create a modicum of predictability?' And what Donald Trump I think has done is - whether you agree with them or not - nobody can disagree that he's injected a tremendous amount of uncertainty into U.S. foreign policy and a lot of the old orthodoxies and some people might say shibboleths that people have been used to have gone by the wayside.

 

LINDSAY: Well this is one of the reasons why his administration has seen a lot of infighting, is because he does have some advisers who share his outlook - and think that's particularly true among his close trade team, think Peter Navarro and think Rob Lightheizer, the U.S. trade representative - but I think elsewhere in the administration you have people - I'm thinking of Jim Mattis, previously H.R. McMaster, Rex Tillerson - who I don't think share the president's macro view. You have many people in the United States government who still embrace this notion of a particular American role in leading the world, bringing groups again the importance of alliances even while recognizing that Germany is not spending enough on defense and we should negotiate a better deal with the Japanese over autos and the like. But I think that they're just two very different world views that are now struggling. And I think the interesting thing is, you know, where is the American public coming down on this, and based on all the recent polls I've seen, President Trump is losing that intellectual battle.

 

PATRICK: That certainly seemed to be the case with some of the recent polling that came out from the Chicago Council and others. They came out and, for instance, they even tweeted something about the International Criminal Court because John Bolton had said that it's "dead to us", and that the tweet was something along the lines of "Well the International Criminal Court is dead to John Bolton but it's not dead to the American people".Again, public opinion - as you know better than most - needs to be sorted and make sure that you know we know what the questions are being asked, etc. But that there is evidence certainly about a U.S. public support for globalization for relatively open trade that is at at variance with the direction that the president is heading.

 

LINDSAY: I think it's probably because most Americans look out and they want some change, but they don't want a lot of change, and they look at it and they're a bit worried about whether this is going to unleash changes that will not redound to America's benefit. So just a closing question: what do you make of the very strong focus on Iran, very little talk about North Korea other than to praise Kim Jong-Un?

 

PATRICK: Well I mean the president has put a lot of eggs in the basket of his meeting with Kim Jong un and his hopes that these early efforts at dismantling some of the nuclear weapons apparatus in Pyongyang are actually going to continue to bear fruit. I think a lot of longtime North Korea watchers are a little bit more skeptical as to as to just having learned from experience as to whether or not how far how far the North Korean regime is going to go. You know there have been some productive talks between the North and South Korean leaders just prior to the U.N. General Assembly and obviously the president is very very anxious to get some sort of sustainable deal with North Korea. With respect to Iran, this is really going to be a test of wills, and not just between the United States and Iran, President Trump and President Rouhani, but also between those five countries that are remaining in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with the Iranian nuclear program and the United States. And I fear that there is going to be an escalating tit-for-tat aspect of that conflict and that's going to be really damaging to the transatlantic alliance potentially because as the U.S. continues to try to ramp up the pressure, I think that European leaders for their own domestic political status are going to have to try to respond in kind. And I think the acrimony is going to fly pretty thick across the Atlantic.

 

LINDSAY: On that sobering note, we will close up the president's inbox for this week. My guest has been Stewart Patrick. He is the author of Sovereignty Wars: Reconciling America With the World. Stewart, thank you for joining me.

 

PATRICK: Always a pleasure Jim.

 

LINDSAY: Please subscribe to The President's Inbox on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen and leave us a review. They help us get noticed and to improve the show. The opinions expressed in The President's Inbox are solely those of the host or guests, not of CFR, which takes no institutional positions. Today's episode was produced by Kevin Lizarazo with senior producer Jeremy Sherlick, Gavin Mudd, John Perry who are our recording engineers. Special thanks to Corey Cooper, Sofia Ruiz, and Gabrielle Sierra for their assistance. This is Jim Lindsay. Thanks for listening.