In a speech delivered Tuesday to the United Nations General Assembly, President Donald Trump made a number of claims and assertions as he once again established his support for an “America First” approach to foreign policy and the world.
“I will always put America first just like you, the leaders of your countries, should put your countries first,” Trump told officials assembled from across the globe.
That attitude was made clear throughout his speech; Trump threatened to annihilate North Korea and slammed both Iran and Venezuela, while defending U.S. action on international aid and refugees. But there were a number of inaccuracies in Trump’s speech — many of which, once unpacked, reveal a far different picture than the one the president presented.
The United States isn’t doing enough to help refugees
As a presidential candidate, Trump ran on a hardline anti-refugee platform. “If I win, they’re going back,” he said of Syrian refugees in 2016, calling refugees in general the “ultimate Trojan horse.”
That approach carried over into his presidency — Trump has worked to ban refugees from the United States while arguing that they should be taken in by neighboring countries. He repeated that latter talking point on Tuesday, honing in on the Syrian refugee crisis in particular.
“We especially thank Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon for their role in hosting refugees from the Syrian conflict,” Trump said.
“The United States is a compassionate nation and has spent billions and billions of dollars in helping to support this effort,” he continued. “We seek an approach to refugee resettlement that is designed to help these horribly treated people, and which enables their eventual return to their home countries, to be part of the rebuilding process. For the cost of resettling one refugee in the United States, we can assist more than ten in their home region.”
Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon — the three countries Trump named — have indeed born the brunt of housing Syrian refugees, who are currently fleeing a devastating and brutal civil war. But doing so has taken a toll, one that most nations wish the United States would share. World leaders have repeatedly begged for U.S. assistance in coping with the refugee crisis, which has seen some 65.6 million people displaced around the globe. As a larger country with many more resources, the United States is in a position to more easily offer assistance to the millions in need — much more so than the struggling countries that border many of the nations refugees are fleeing.
Trump also focused on another common source of contention among those opposed to taking in refugees: cost. But that’s a hard argument to make. Refugees actually cost the United States much less than critics claim (and many have argued that taking in refugees is actually good for the economy.) But the president proposed cutting refugee resettlement funding by 11 percent in May, continuing a trend of shutting out refugees rather than helping them.
Trump’s speech notably coincided with a New York Times revelation that the White House rejected a study from the Department of Health and Human Services. The study’s findings? Over the past decade, refugees actually brought the United States $63 billion more in government revenue than they cost.
Yemen is in crisis, yes — but the United States is partly to blame
Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East, is two years into a devastating war. More than 10,000 people have been killed, and in January, the United Nations estimated some 40,000 people had been injured in the conflict, with another 10 million in need of urgent assistance. In August, the U.N. Security Council warned that seven million people in Yemen are set to experience a horrifying famine, something that will further endanger the country’s beleaguered population.
The war has attracted global condemnation, and Trump touched on the tragedy in his speech, touting U.S. aid and support.
“The United States continues to lead the world in humanitarian assistance, including famine prevention and relief, in south Sudan, Somalia, and northern Nigeria and Yemen,” Trump said.
But Trump’s comment skirted a glaring fact: Yemen’s war is being driven largely by Saudi Arabia, a major U.S. ally backed by billions of U.S. dollars.
Unbelievable! Trump praises US humanitarian aid to Yemen–where we back the Saudi attacks that have turned it into a humanitarian crisis.
— Nicholas Kristof (@NickKristof) September 19, 2017
Under Trump, Saudi influence has arguably grown even more powerful. Saudi Arabia was Trump’s first international destination as president, where he announced one of the largest arms sales in U.S. history. But while the United States showers praise and funding on the Gulf giant, Saudi airstrikes and blockades are killing people across Yemen.
“Yemen is a moral, humanitarian and strategic disaster for America,” Aaron David Miller, a former State Department Middle East analyst, told the New York Times in August. “U.S. policy is being driven by its pro-Saudi proclivities and its own desire to contain Iran. But by enabling Riyadh, it’s only making an already fraught situation worse.”
The Iran deal wasn’t “one-sided”
One of the longest portions of Trump’s speech centered on Iran — with an emphasis on the Iran deal negotiated under former President Barack Obama.
“The Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into,” Trump declared.
That statement — that the deal was one-sided — is incorrect, in no small part because the deal is a multilateral agreement, carefully negotiated by Iran and numerous entities, including the European Union, the United Kingdom, Russia, France, China, Germany, and the United States. Mutual benefit was the deal’s intended outcome, with Iran indeed standing to gain through an easing of sanctions and greater opportunities for economic growth and cooperation. But other countries, including the United States, also achieved a longed-for outcome, with greater limits on Iran’s nuclear program and an international crisis postponed.
That reality went unacknowledged by Trump, who called the deal an “embarrassment” and hinted at unraveling it. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani seemed prepared for that possibility earlier in the day Tuesday when he spoke to reporters. In the event that the deal is torn up, “everyone will clearly see that Iran has lived up to its agreements and that the United States is therefore a country that cannot be trusted,” Rouhani argued.
While Trump stopped short of declaring the deal dead, he all but implied its demise could be at hand.
“I don’t think you’ve heard the end of it,” Trump said pointedly.
Both socialism and Venezuela are more complicated than Trump acknowledges
“We have also imposed tough calibrated sanctions on the socialist Maduro regime in Venezuela which has brought a once thriving nation to the brink of total collapse,” Trump proclaimed during his speech, lashing out at the South American country and long-time U.S. antagonist.
But he didn’t stop there.
“The problem in Venezuela is not that socialism has been poorly implemented, but that socialism has been faithfully implemented,” Trump said. “From the Soviet Union to Cuba to Venezuela, wherever true socialism or communism has been adopted, it has delivered anguish and devastation and failure.”
Trump’s comments connect Venezuela’s current predicament to a wider political ideology — socialism. But the situation is significantly more complicated than that. Under the leadership of President Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela has slowly spiraled towards economic and humanitarian disaster. Venezuela’s financial woes can be traced back to former President Hugo Chavez, who instituted price controls, something that later became a crisis in 2014, when oil prices began to plummet. Shortages of food, medicine, and other basic resources quickly became an emergency, one that has only worsened as Maduro has cracked down on opposition officials in an effort to retain power.
Maduro is an authoritarian leader and member of the United Socialist party, but Venezuela’s history with socialism is hardly a global reality. Like all political ideologies, socialism has taken many forms, some highly unsuccessful, like Venezuela, and some far more accessible to Western audiences — such as, for example, France, which was ruled by the Socialist party up until the nation’s recent elections.
Notably, neither France nor Venezuela are examples of pure socialism, much in the way that China and Cuba are not examples of pure communism and the United States is not an example of pure democracy. (The former Soviet Union was similarly not an example of either pure socialism or pure communism.) Venezuela’s ills have been caused by an authoritarian regime — not, as Trump asserted, by any particular political ideology.
The U.S. doesn’t really have a new strategy in Afghanistan
Among Trump’s bolder assertions was a declaration regarding Afghanistan, where U.S. troops have spent 16 years engaged in a stalemate war.
“Last month I announced a new strategy for victory in the fight against this evil in Afghanistan,” the president said. “From now on, our security interests will dictate the length and scope of military operation, not arbitrary benchmarks and timetables set up by politicians. I have also totally changed the rules of engagement in our fight against the Taliban and other terrorist groups.”
The Trump administration’s plan for Afghanistan (or lack thereof) has long worried the international community. Amid significant hype, Trump gave a speech in August announcing a plan forward, with the seeming goal of laying speculation to rest. But the speech only spurred more questions, largely because Trump failed to provide a timeline, lay out a strategy, or provide any major details.
“A core pillar of our new strategy is a shift from a time-based approach to one based on conditions,” Trump said at the time. “I’ve said it many times how counterproductive it is for the United States to announce in advance the dates we intend to begin or end military options. We will not talk about numbers of troops, or our plans for further military activities.”
That announcement was a far cry from completely altering the rules of engagement — if anything, the United States seems as entrenched in Afghanistan as it ever was, with no end in sight.