Could a President Donald Trump be the one to take on the United Nations?
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The question occurs as The Donald prepares for the primary in the state that is his and the United Nations’ home. It turns out he has quite a record on the United Nations, against whose plans to expand its headquarters he testified a decade ago. The episode suggests he — in sharp contradistinction to Hillary Clinton — could give the UN a hard time.
Trump raised the United Nations issue this past week during the Wisconsin campaign, which was his first big defeat. He warned that the UN could, as the New York Times put it, “meet a fate similar to NATO.”
The fate Trump has in mind for that alliance — set up after World War II to deal, in large part, with the Soviet threat — seems to be that its members pay a far bigger share of the defense burden. If not, Trump said this week at Racine, Wisconsin, he’s prepared to see NATO broken up.
Then at Wausau, Wisconsin, he warned that the UN could meet a similar fate. He’s also worried about its high cost and low performance. “Do they ever settle anything?” the New York Times quoted him as saying. “It’s just like a political game.”
I haven’t declared for Trump, but I don’t mind saying that his UN talk is music to my ears.
From any other candidate, one might be inclined to shrug off such talk as posturing. But Trump made quite an appearance during the maneuvering over the United Nations under President George W. Bush’s term. This centered on the aspirations of the mandarins at the UN, a sink of corruption and anti-Semitism, to expand the headquarters of the General Assembly and the Secretariat.
Those bodies are seated on some of the most valuable real estate in the Milky Way. It’s on the East Side of mid-town Manhattan in an area known as Turtle Bay (hence the metonym of Turtle Bay for the UN itself). It’s a long and tangled tale but comprised an effort by the UN and its backers to convince the New York legislature and the U.S. Congress that it could do its renovations for $1.2 billion.
That was a patent falsehood, but New York’s two senators —Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton — played along. They knew full well how hostile to Israel the United Nations’ various committees had become. But they went along, as did Mayor Bloomberg, who argued that any departure of the UN from New York would cost the city billions of dollars a year. The real estate industry was dying for the UN to stay.
Only Donald Trump stood up on principle. He warned that the UN’s scheme would cost nearly three times what the pols and UN apparatchiks forecast. Trump’s figure was $3 billion, including a UN scheme to take over a nearby children’s playground and build a massive new tower on it. In the event, the seizure of the playground was blocked. The remaining renovations cost more than $2.1 billion. Staggering.
So Trump knew what he was talking about, and it took some gumption to stand up on the point. At one juncture Trump went to Washington and testified before the Senate. He allied himself with two hard-bitten, pro-taxpayer senators, Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. Coburn, a famous foe of pork barrel spending, is now out of politics. Sessions has fetched up as an early endorser of Trump.
It may well be now that Senator Cruz’s defeat of Trump in the Wisconsin primary marks the beginning of the end of his quest for the Republican nomination. Trump has been his own worst enemy in many ways, and if it gets to an open convention, he could well be in trouble. But it’s also possible that he will, as Conrad Black has suggested, weather his current heavy seas and go on to lead the party.
If so my own guess is that it will be because Trump is seen as having the crust to challenge major institutions. NATO deserves a review. Same with the Federal Reserve, on which there’s agitation in Congress.
None needs reform more than the United Nations, which, in respect of Iran, has openly allied itself against not only Israel but the institution that is the UN’s largest funder, the United States Congress, which is where Trump would start.
Seth Lipsky is editor of The New York Sun. He was a foreign editor of The Wall Street Journal, founding editor of The Forward and editor from 1990 to 2000. Follow him on Twitter: @sethlipsky