Instead, he is likely to be relegated to an irrelevant sideshow.
When the UNGA kicks off on Tuesday, the depths of America’s descent will be on full display. Despite currently holding the presidency of the Security Council, the US will struggle to influence the course of events.
Whether on Iran, Israel or the International Criminal Court, the US will find few nations willing to lend their support to its polarizing positions.
Bullying and bulldozing have brought tumbling down our traditional friendships and a firm foundation for international cooperation. In an unusual move, the Secretary-General of the UN will not address the Security Council session President Trump plans to chair.
We now stand alone on unsteady ground. Meanwhile new structures and strategies have been erected.
Our allies are building security, economic and political plans without us. We have entered a post-American era in which other nations will depend far less on our leadership. At the UN, we will witness the emergence of some of those new roles and relationships.
More problematically, we have already seen regional powers trying to challenge past customs and constraints. Sensing an opening, Russia and China have fast forged a close alliance. Saudi Arabia put Western nations on notice that it will no longer tolerate even mild criticism of its human rights record. Turkey tried to avert a humanitarian crisis in Idlib, Syria, as we stood on the sidelines.
For the first time in history, America will find itself consistently isolated on major issues before the Security Council. That’s a role more commonly played by the likes of Russia or China. Sure, there were a few cases in the past when it had been in the minority on matters like Israel or Iraq. But, it has never struggled to rally a majority behind most of our diplomatic agenda.
Trump will likely try to pass off attacks on Iran as an effort to stem the spread of weapons of mass destruction. No one will be fooled by the thinly veiled attempt to undermine the Iran deal. It will represent an unprecedented rebuke of the United States. Even in the most difficult periods of the Iraq War, America still managed to hold together the Anglo alliance along with an array of other nations. But they are no longer playing ball.
Will North Korea offer the chance for a new beginning? Most leaders are pleased to at least see the verbal assaults abate and the missiles muzzled for the moment. Yet, Trump has proven a poor negotiator. The fear remains that he will lead the world into an even worse place.
Trump may well dominate the headlines out of the UNGA. As the photo of Chancellor Angela Merkel looming over him at the G7 summit illustrated so well, he is far less likely to dominate or direct the debate. His sideshow may prove to be a distraction, but it will do little to change the clear power shift taking place.
Some will see opportunity in America’s absence. Others will act as though little has changed, perhaps hoping their old ally will return. Most will proceed with caution. We are entering the dawn of a new era where lines are being redrawn.
For now, we are unlikely to see the international community make much progress on major issues. They will remain too preoccupied with preserving what they can of the power and privileges they enjoyed under the old order.
More pressing will be efforts to prevent worst-case scenarios from coming to pass. It’s a dangerous period for the world, one that has echos of the British Empire’s descent in the beginning of the last century. Trump may indeed get a dramatic show, but the ending will be far different than he hoped.