The parade of diplomatic visitors to the United Nations starts in mid-September with the U.S. president in a starring role on the first day of the annual event. Having financially slashed key UN programs, are there any activities left he can damage? Or will his speech focus on “enemies” like Iran?
Last year, President Donald Trump stressed his “America First” theme at a house built on multinationalism, to the chagrin of many diplomats and an immediate rebuff from French President Emmanuel Macron on the podium. Trump had argued that sovereignty always took precedence.
The Trump administration has pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal approved by the UN Security Council, has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Accord (denies human-induced pollutants), refused to attend a UN global meeting on migration (We have nothing to learn there?), cut money from women’s reproductive health programs, sliced UN aid to Palestinians and even revoked a visa to the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.
U.S. Isolated on Iran
Good to the administration’s word, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo recently lectured the UN Security Council on the dangers of Iran and the need for sanctions. One after another, Council members said they still supported a nuclear deal with Tehran, which Trump had disparaged in his obsession to undo actions taken by his predecessor, Barack Obama.
But putting the agreement back together again is not easy, as Iran has taken negative actions and some deadlines have expired. Still, to make a point of the Iran deal Europeans support, Macron invited Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to the G7 meeting.
Zarif, himself, is under U.S. sanctions, as is the entire Iranian mission to the United Nations. It is expected some in his government will not approve of his visit to the G7. As Wendy Sherman, one of the main negotiators of the Iran deal, said, “there are hard-liners and hard hard-liners” in Iran and in the Trump administration.
Women’s Programs Slashed
On women, the Trump administration and evangelicals have been unrelenting. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA), which deals in maternal health care and family planning but does not conduct abortions, was a prime target for the last three years, cutting $32.5 million annually.
The reason given was specious: that the agency had supported China’s population control policies, such as coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization. No evidence was given, and UNFPA has shied away from abortion. But the main reason seems to be family planning: information or contraceptives to poor women or the millions wanting relief from rape in conflict zones or the estimated millions eager to have access to contraceptives.
And then there is the global “gag rule” that bans official American aid to any global organization that provides abortions or even information about the procedure, a staple of Republican administrations. Journalist Barbara Crosette explains it in depth in PassBlue:
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“...it amounts to an attack on the health and rights of millions of women in the poorest nations, conflict zones, refugee camps and ad hoc settlements thrown together after catastrophic natural disasters, where rape and other abuse—usually perpetrated by men—become daily experiences on a large scale.”
Bye-Bye, Human Rights
Human rights have also become a dirty word, although the administration denies it. Pompeo and then-Ambassador Nikki Haley in 2018 pulled out of the UN Human Rights Council and cut $7 million to that body as well as $16 million for programs run by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, now Michelle Bachelet of Chile.
The reasons given were that too many countries elected to the council had poor human rights records and that too many resolutions were focused on Israel. Of course, working to change some of this from the inside might have made sense, particularly when the body’s investigations include Myanmar, Syria, North Korea and others. Now Secretary Pompeo wants to elaborate (or redefine?) human rights.
Palestinian Relief Cut
Onward to the Palestinians, where, as I’ve written before, “Trump has cut the U.S. aid budget to the Palestinians in defunding UNRWA, the UN Relief and Works Agency, that delivers education, health and other humanitarian assistance to 5 million Palestinians. Washington had contributed $360 million in 2017. The funds were reduced to $60 million in 2018 and zero in 2019” as the world awaited a new U.S. peace plan that seems to be going nowhere.
UNRWA, once lauded for filling a humanitarian gap, has itself fallen into trouble. A confidential UN report, first disclosed by Ian Williams on Al Jazeera, said top officials abused their authority for “personal gain” and other objectives. Among those named was Swiss national Pierre Krähenbühl, the commissioner-general. Switzerland immediately withheld funds from the agency.
And, as I’ve written before, “The United States [has] also cut $10 million from Israeli-Palestinian sports and culture programs and $25 million from hospitals in East Jerusalem that treat Palestinian cancer patients.”
Most alarming are cuts to peacekeeping where soldiers, mainly from developing countries, field troops to conflict zones in developing nations. The Trump administration decided to stop paying its bills, and cut $1.24 billion or 3 percent in its share of the budget. Congress has objected, but the money has not reached the world body.
Still, President Trump has insisted that the United States has regained respect in the world it allegedly lost under President Obama. Perhaps this is true in Israel and in Saudi Arabia, but ignoring another 180-plus member nations does not garner popularity.