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World Laughs at Trump as He Boasts About Himself in U.N. Address Threatening Iran, Venezuela

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World leaders in the United Nations General Assembly burst out laughing when President Trump boasted about his accomplishments. Trump praised North Korea, attacked Germany and accused Iran of “sowing chaos, death and destruction,” drawing scorn from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. “What’s amazing is not that this hall of seasoned professionals laughed at him, but that he doesn’t get more laughter in the United States. These cable news programs take him seriously. … He should be laughed off the screen everywhere,” says Juan Cole, historian and author of “Engaging the Muslim World.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: President Trump has repeatedly attacked his political opponents by saying the world is, quote, “laughing” at the United States. But on Tuesday, as he addressed the United Nations General Assembly, many of the world’s leaders laughed at him when he boasted of his administration’s accomplishments.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country.

AUDIENCE: [laughter]

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: America’s—so true.

AUDIENCE: [laughter]

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Didn’t expect that reaction, but that’s OK.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Trump later said his comment was, quote, “meant to get some laughter so it was great.” During his address, Trump assailed the International Criminal Court, accused Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro of corruption and announced new sanctions against members of Maduro’s inner circle. And he accused Iran of sowing, quote, “chaos, death and destruction” across the Middle East.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Iran’s leaders sow chaos, death and destruction. They do not respect their neighbors or borders or the sovereign rights of nations. Instead, Iran’s leaders plunder the nation’s resources to enrich themselves and to spread mayhem across the Middle East and far beyond. … We cannot allow the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism to possess the planet’s most dangerous weapons. … We ask all nations to isolate Iran’s regime as long as its aggression continues, and we ask all nations to support Iran’s people as they struggle to reclaim their religious and righteous destiny.

AMY GOODMAN: Just hours after Trump’s speech, National Security Adviser John Bolton issued a dire warning to Iran.

JOHN BOLTON: According to the mullahs in Tehran, we are the Great Satan, lord of the underworld, master of the raging inferno. So I might imagine they would take me seriously that I—when I assure them today that if you cross us, our allies or our partners, if you harm our citizens, if you continue to lie, cheat and deceive, yes, there will indeed be hell to pay. … The murderous regime and its supporters will face significant consequences if they do not change their behavior. Let my message today be very clear: We are watching, and we will come after you.

AMY GOODMAN: Today President Trump is set to chair a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on nuclear proliferation. To talk more about Trump’s comments at the United Nations, particularly on Iran, we go to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to speak with Juan Cole, professor of history at the University of Michigan. His blog is called Informed Consent [sic]—


AMY GOODMAN: He is the author of many books—Informed Comment, rather. He’s the author of many books, including Engaging the Muslim World. His forthcoming book, Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires, it’s out in October.

We welcome you back to Democracy Now!, Professor Cole. Let’s start where President Trump started his speech. Let’s start with the laughter of the world leaders when Trump talked about, boasted about, his accomplishments of the last two years.

JUAN COLE: Well, this was a hall full of world leaders that actually run administrations, and they’ve seen the chaos of the Trump administration for the past two years. And I think what’s amazing is not that this hall of seasoned professionals laughed at him, but that he doesn’t get more laughter in the United States. These cable news programs take him seriously. They’ve normalized him. He has told thousands of lies, and his rate of lying has increased enormously in recent months. And I think he should be laughed off the screen everywhere.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Professor Cole, I wanted to ask you—while the president was giving this speech, this same week there was a key announcement, which I think has not gotten a whole lot of publicity, that the governments of the United Kingdom, Germany, France, China and Russia have all supported an idea to basically break away from the sanctions that President Trump has put on Iran, and to create some kind of a special purpose vehicle, a financial bank in Europe, that would allow companies to conduct trade with Iran and not be able to suffer from sanctions. I’m wondering if you could comment about the importance of this sort of declaration of financial independence by these major world powers.

JUAN COLE: Well, I think, in some ways, Juan, it’s one of the more significant developments in the relationship of the United States to Europe since the end of World War II. Europe has most often taken its lead from the United States on world affairs, and here it is directly defying Washington’s will. The U.S. Department of the Treasury is the instrument used by administrations to impose sanctions, and those sanctions can be imposed on trade that is conducted in dollars or through U.S. banks. And so what the Europeans are saying is we’ll set up a vehicle for Iran to do business with European firms, which will be in euros, and it will sidestep U.S. banks and international exchanges so as to ensure that some of the economic relief that was promised to Iran for mothballing most of its civilian nuclear enrichment research would come through.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to Iranian President Rouhani speaking at the United Nations General Assembly, suggesting the U.S. under Trump has adopted a Nazi disposition. He didn’t mention Trump by name.

PRESIDENT HASSAN ROUHANI: [translated] It is unfortunate that we are witnessing rulers in the world who think they can secure their interests better, or at least in the short term ride public sentiments and gain popular support through the fomenting of extremists, nationalism and racism, and through xenophobic tendencies resembling a Nazi disposition, as well as through the trampling of global rules and undermining international institutions. … It is ironic that the U.S. government does not even conceal its plan for overthrowing the same government it invites to talks.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was President Rouhani. Your response, Juan Cole?

JUAN COLE: Well, you know, I’m a critic of the human rights conditions under this regime in Iran, but you have to admit that Rouhani has a point. Trump has made white nationalism a key element and an open element of American policy, both foreign policy and domestic. Trump has spoken dismissively of many of the countries in the world that are struggling to develop as poor, and he has implemented policies in the United States that clearly are race-based, and has spoken dismissively of minorities.

One of the reasons back in the '60s that the U.S. government was so nervous about the civil rights movement was that they were afraid enemies of the U.S., especially the communists, would take advantage of the fact of Jim Crow and of the racist regime in the United States to turn the world against the country. And I think we're at a juncture where this threat is there again. That is to say, much of the world is in the category that Trump looks down on. And Iran has had a kind of Third Worldist foreign policy, and it’s going to use this to do politics on a global scale against the United States.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Professor Cole, I want to ask you—while he was dismissive, as you mentioned, of many countries, including some U.S. allies, he declared sort of a pantheon of nations that he believed were making progress in the world, which included Saudi Arabia, which last time I looked was a complete absolute monarchy, Poland, which is the most right-wing government arguably in Europe today, and Israel. I’m wondering about his selection of countries that people should look to for inspiration.

JUAN COLE: Sure. Well, you know, all of the countries you mentioned have severe human rights problems, and I think Poland is just on the cusp of being sanctioned in the way that Hungary has been, for departing from European human rights norms and judiciary norms. Saudi Arabia, as you say, is an absolute monarchy, and despite some cosmetic recent reforms, they do things like sentence bloggers to a thousand lashes for criticizing the government. Even some of the women who had led the charge on getting the right to drive have now been arrested, now that it’s a government achievement, and they’re being denied the credit, and they’re in jail. So, yes, I mean, Trump exalts these right-wing tendencies. Poland has a very strong anti-immigrant policy, which is part of what Trump admires about them. And it all is—you know, if it’s not Nazism, it’s certainly racial superiority of what Trump would categorize as white people.

AMY GOODMAN: Early Tuesday morning, President Trump tweeted, “Despite requests, I have no plans to meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Maybe someday in the future. I am sure he is an absolutely lovely man!” Well, later Tuesday, in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Rouhani denied Iran had requested a meeting with Trump.

PRESIDENT HASSAN ROUHANI: [translated] Not this year, nor last year, we have never made such a request for a meeting with the president of the United States. Of course, last year, from American officials, we received eight requests for a meeting. And I did not see that as being an appropriate meeting, as I do not see it as being appropriate now. And a meeting must take place at a time when that meeting can serve a purpose, can be beneficial, can serve the benefits of both countries. But under the current conditions, when it comes to a meeting and dialogue, I do not see it as beneficial nor appropriate. But you should ask him who made such requests.

AMY GOODMAN: So here is Trump saying that despite Iran’s repeated requests, and President Rouhani is saying, “We made no such requests this year or last year.” But talk about the significance of this, Juan Cole—as President Trump declares he’s going to have a second summit with North Korea—his relationship with Rouhani, and what this means for even places like Syria.

JUAN COLE: Well, it shows the dangers of having somebody who’s, frankly, unbalanced as the president of the United States. I mean, he lies. He’s a pathological liar. Everything that comes out of his mouth is a lie. And to have somebody at the helm of the country who consistently tells these falsehoods is embarrassing.

It’s very obvious that the Iranians don’t want to meet with him and never have wanted to meet with him, because they had spent all of 2014 and 2015 negotiating this nuclear deal, and they finally had a breakthrough. They had international agreement. It’s a deal not with the United States, but with the U.N. Security Council plus the European Union, represented by Germany. And Trump violated that treaty. He withdrew from it and has put the United States on a war footing with Iran, to the extent that members of his administration are openly admitting that they are the Great Satan. We always took that as an insult. John Bolton seems to enjoy the epithet.

So, of course the Iranians don’t want to meet with Trump. And what good would it do to—does he want to renegotiate the deal? This already has taken years and years of diplomacy, and Trump just withdrew from it. And why wouldn’t they expect him to withdraw from the next deal? So, you know, if you have to make a judgment of who’s right here, it’s obviously Rouhani. But the other thing to say is that it’s dangerous to have somebody who lies like this in charge of the United States. We’re a superpower. We’re a nuclear power. We’re doing diplomacy. We have relationships with other countries. This can go to war.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you, Juan Cole, for joining us, professor of history at University of Michigan, his blog Informed Comment online at, author of many books, including Engaging the Muslim World. His forthcoming book, Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires, is out in October.

When we come back, the man who’s credited with crafting President Trump’s U.N. address, Stephen Miller. We’ll speak with Miller’s uncle. Stay with us.

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