President Donald Trump’s visit to the United Nations General Assembly in New York this week has been … confused.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo advertised that Trump would like to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and then Trump claimed (implausibly) to have turned down Rouhani’s request for a meeting, while also (peculiarly) calling him “an absolutely lovely man.” He lauded sovereignty, promising “the United States will not tell you how to live or work or worship” while threatening to sanction countries that choose to work with Iran.
It is tempting to laugh—world leaders certainly did—but Trump is setting diplomatic targets that cannot be met. As a result, his offers of dialogue are empty, and the world knows it. Worse, Trump—or at least the hard-line advisers who have latched on to him—is trying to change how we assess the legitimacy of diplomacy and other national security tools in our domestic politics. If their efforts are not countered, they will make agreements less likely and conflict more likely even after his presidency is long over.
For example, Brian Hook, the State Department’s senior official on Iran, said in a speech on September 19 that the Trump administration is looking to negotiate a formal treaty with Iran, explaining that “it will not be a personal agreement between two governments like the last one,” referring to the Iran deal negotiated by President Barack Obama. Hook was echoing Pompeo, who has called for agreements with both Iran and North Korea to be ratified as treaties.