This week, leaders from the across the world gathered for the 72nd General Assembly of the United Nations.
What they and millions of onlookers around the globe were looking for was what the famously outspoken President of the United States would say in his first address at the United Nations. What they heard was one of the most courageous and moral speeches on foreign policy in memory.
In the run up to the speech, multiple diplomatic crises had converged in a frightening fit of concurrent escalation. North Korea seemed to be upping the stakes in a nuclear game of chicken with the United States, conducting its fifteenth illegal missile test this year just last Friday — this time, firing a rocket right over Japan. Twelve days prior, they tested what appeared to be a hydrogen bomb, invoking a new wave of UN sanctions. Following that, official representatives of the apparently irate Kim Jong Un claimed that America — or the “rabid dog,” to use their preferred term — needed to be “beaten to death” and “reduced to darkness and ashes.”
The world’s other nuclear menace, Iran, seemed to be charting its own crash course with the United States — one that, though subtler, is just as dangerous. Less than two years into the disastrous nuclear deal signed with President Barack Obama, Iran already seems to be violating its barely-extant side of the agreement. Israeli intelligence appears to have learned that international inspectors were into a critical Iranian military installation and did not bother entering a number of other sites of suspected nuclear research and development. Trump has better information than we do, and he seems to agree. Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, Trump that Iran had “violated so many different elements” of the deal that the U.S. would no longer “stand for what they’re doing.”
With a deadline for Iranian sanctions relief coming up this October, many had come to believe that Trump might just scrap what he called “the worst deal ever.” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani just a few days ago with the not-so-veiled threat that Iran would “react swiftly” to an American nix of the deal. Apparently trying to intimidate the United States, he added that “if the U.S. wants to increase the tensions, it will see the reaction from Iran.”
And with all this circling, Trump was set to give his first address to the global community.
It was as though the world itself had set a momentous stage for the American president.
President Trump offered a speech of platinum-grade moral clarity, one composed of words that were unequivocal in their denunciation of the world’s most evil regimes. In some of the strongest terms available to a head of state, Trump went after what he called “the scourge of our planet” — the cynical, violent band of “rogue regimes” known more specifically as North Korea and Iran.
These regimes, he appropriately pointed out, “violate every principle on which the United Nations is based,” respecting “neither their own citizens nor the sovereign rights of their countries.”
North Korea is a country that has brutalized its citizens, starving them for years while diverting resources to its military and a nuclear program — which, as Trump pointed out, “threatens the entire world with unthinkable loss of life.” Trump employed the green marble rostrum of the UN to issue a threat that was in no way veiled: if forced to defend itself or its allies, America would “be left with no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.”
“Rocket man” and his “band of criminals,” as Trump unaffectionately called them, were embarking not on a quest for nuclear power but a “suicide mission.”
Iran, too, was called out by the American president as an “economically depleted rogue-state” whose financial woes were best explained by the fact that their “chief exports are violence, bloodshed, and chaos.” He was referring, of course, to the murderers they fund and field in Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, and — to the most horrific effect — Syria. Beyond being the greatest destabilizing force in the Middle East, Iran is hell-bent on acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Added to the mix is the classic authoritarian ingredient: the fact Iran not only suppresses its citizens’ freedoms, but will actually shoot them on its own streets, as the world witnessed in the suppression of the 2009 Green Revolution. Our president made it clear that the American people would not be fooled by the “murderous” regime’s “false guise of democracy.” Trump, instead, exposed Iran’s true governmental blood-type: that of the “corrupt dictatorship.”
Trump then turned to the Iran nuclear deal. Again, he chose to unmask it for the farce it is, calling it “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into,” and, more succinctly, an “embarrassment to the United States.” Again, he issued a threat. It was somewhat veiled, but with a re-ratification deadline less than a month away, it was just as potent: “I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it — believe me.”
Denunciations of rogue states are rare to nonexistent in the halls of the UN. The United Nations has embarrassed itself as it has repeatedly morally equivocated about brutal governments and terrorists regimes. This week, however, President Trump, as leader of the free world, upended the UN’s pathetic apathy, demanding and delivering a decisive moral code for the members of the global community to follow. He made it clear that overall support from the United States to the UN would be dependent on the UN charting a new course — hopefully one where terror-funding “rogue nations” like Iran, and not democracies like Israel, become the target of the UN’s wrath.
As expressed in Trump’s own words, “[I]f the righteous many don’t confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph.”
I watched as Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel praised President Trump’s speech as the boldest he had ever heard at the UN. The president had made it clear that the American tolerance for evil regimes like North Korea and Iran had reached its limit. As a Jew, I felt gratitude. As an American, I felt pride.
The need for leaders to identify and confront evil was established by the late British Prime Minister Winston Churchill when he stood atop his own historical podium in the bleakest moments of World War II. There, he stared down the evil of Nazism as he delivered his famous “Fight Them on the Beaches” speech following the Dunkirk evacuation. He spoke without ambiguity of the existence of true wickedness, calling his German foes “a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime.” He told the free world, which was gradually rallying behind him, that even in the face of such a powerful enemy they dare not abdicate their “duty to defend the world cause to which we have vowed ourselves.”
With leaders from around the globe in New York for a new session of the United Nations, founded in the aftermath of Nazi evil, we can only hope that President Trump’s colleagues will follow his bold words and stop criminal regimes before they claim countless more innocent victims.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” is the founder of The World Values Network and is the international best-selling author of 31 books, including The Israel Warrior. Follow him on Twitter .