Donald Trump
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

America is consumed by a such a frenzied meltdown domestically, that little attention is being paid to what’s going on at the United Nations in New York this week. On Wednesday, President Trump is scheduled to chair a meeting of the U.N. Security Council. According to the New York Times, his first inclination was to use the meeting to rail against Iran and threaten our allies with sanctions if they continue to engage in commerce with them past this upcoming November.

Predictably, our allies did not like this idea. Britain, France, and Germany warned that making the meeting about Iran would highlight divisions in the Western alliance. Eventually, they got an unlikely supporter in former acting U.N. ambassador John Bolton who now serves as Trump’s national security advisor.

As a former ambassador to the United Nations, Mr. Bolton recognized that if Iran were the topic of the meeting, [Iranian president Hassan] Rouhani would be entitled to a seat at the table to respond.

The result was a decision to broaden the agenda to countering the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, rather than simply countering Iran. While it is not clear that White House officials realized it, that was also the focus of the first Security Council meeting led by President Barack Obama, in 2009.

Bolton’s objection may have been strictly procedural, but from the Europeans’ point of view it resolved the agenda for the meeting in a way that was acceptable to them. Then, on Friday, President Trump sent out a tweet stating “I will Chair the United Nations Security Council meeting on Iran next week!”

That prompted queries from the Europeans, who thought the issue was settled. The senior diplomat said White House officials could not explain Mr. Trump’s tweet, but urged them to ignore it, assuring them that the agenda for the meeting would be followed.

And, so, here we have one more piece of evidence that Trump doesn’t know what he is doing, doesn’t retain information from one moment to the next, and that his handlers in the White House are frequently forced to ignore his statements and also to advise their international interlocutors to do the same.

The stakes have grown since Friday. On Saturday, an Iranian military parade was attacked leaving at least twenty-nine people, including some civilians, dead on the street and another seventy people injured. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei is pointing the finger of responsibility at Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States. He’s also vowing revenge.

“According to the reports, this cowardly act was committed by the same people who are saved by the Americans whenever they are trapped in Syria and Iraq and whose hands are in the pockets of Saudi Arabia and the UAE,” Khamenei said, according to his official website.
“We will certainly give the perpetrators of this act a harsh punishment,” he added.

It would be nice, under the circumstances, if we had a president who had the slightest inkling of what is going on in the real world. We don’t.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at