You had to be just as rough with allies to soften them up, Trump argued. Yes, he’d rejected a request to meet with the leader of a longtime American partner, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, during this year’s UN General Assembly. But that was because Canada’s “tariffs [on U.S. goods] are too high,” and Trudeau would at some point see the error of his ways. “Canada will come along,” Trump said. “Now, if Canada doesn’t make a deal with us, we’re going to make a much better deal. We’re going to tax the cars that come in. We will put billions and billions of dollars into our Treasury. And frankly, we’ll be very happy because it’s actually more money than you can make under any circumstance with making a deal.”
And yes, the United States had appeared isolated from its European allies and other world powers at the United Nations over its withdrawal from the multinational Iran nuclear deal. But it “doesn’t matter what world leaders think on Iran,” Trump asserted. “Iran’s going to come back to me, and they’re going to make a good deal, I think. Maybe not. Deals, you never know. But they’re suffering greatly” from reimposed sanctions. (At a press conference earlier in the day, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had drawn the opposite conclusion, predicting that the United States would “sooner or later … come back” to the Iran deal.)
It’s Trump versus everyone else on Iran at the UN.
In fact, the suffering—whether in China and Canada from tariffs, or in Iran and North Korea from sanctions and threats of military force—was the very point. Trump suggested that the pain these countries are enduring demonstrates that his policies are working. The Iranians “have rampant inflation,” Trump observed. “Their money is worthless. Everything is going wrong. They have riots in the street. You can’t buy bread. You can’t do anything. It’s a disaster … At some point … they’re going to say, ‘Hey, can we do something?’” He applied a similar calculus to trade: China is “having big problems” economically, Trump noted. “I don’t want them to have problems, but they have to make a fair deal, just like Canada has to make a fair deal.”
It’s an apt approach for a man who tends to characterize countries as neither adversaries nor allies but ruthless, self-interested actors whose gains come at America’s loss. In such a rough-and-tumble world, the United States must be just as ruthless and self-interested. “I love Canada … I have so many friends” there, Trump said at one point. “But that has nothing to do with this; I’m representing the United States,” and Canada has treated American farmers “very badly.” As for China, “Everything’s always been, for 20 years, ‘Oh, China is so great’ … I love China. I think they’re great. But you don’t hear that so much anymore. You know who’s great now? We’re great now.”