Is Trump about to repeat George W Bush’s worst mistake?

In 2002, Bush used his UN speech to argue for action against Iraq. Let’s hope Trump’s first UN speech isn’t the opening salvo in a preventable war with Iran

‘Why would North Korea deal with Trump if he doesn’t live up to US commitments?’ Photograph: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

In 2003, the United States initiated perhaps the greatest strategic disaster in US history by diverting attention from a necessary war in Afghanistan to an unnecessary war in Iraq. The Iraq war resulted in hundreds of thousands dead and wounded, untold economic catastrophe, states in the Middle East in complete ruin, and the rise of Isis – all while the effort to go after terrorists in Afghanistan languished.

President Donald Trump’s first speech before the United Nations general assembly this week made clear that Trump wants to take America down a similar path by diverting much-needed attention from North Korea to starting an unnecessary conflict with Iran.

If the United States and the world cannot convince Trump to support the Iran nuclear deal and instead focus on real problems, America may once again plunge into a violent disaster in the Middle East, and in the process damage efforts to deal with a country that already has nuclear weapons.

The threat from North Korea is real, and Trump used his speech to outline the need for an international pressure campaign against Kim Jong-un. There is little disagreement on the need for a tough stance against North Korea, as evidenced by the UN security council’s recent unanimous vote to impose new sanctions.

But Trump is having a difficult time implementing a coherent strategy on North Korea. He has picked a fight with America’s South Korean ally, whose support is essential. He frequently hurls hyperbolic rhetoric, raising the chances of miscalculation that could lead to conflict. And he talks as though war is inevitable, a theme he reiterated before the world’s leaders when he said, “Rocket Man [Kim Jong-un] is on a suicide mission for himself and his regime.”

Significant challenges remain in dealing with North Korea, even if Trump can get his own act together. China is unwilling to apply maximum pressure on North Korea for fear Pyongyang will collapse. Enforcing sanctions elsewhere is often like putting fingers in a dam full of leaks. It’s unclear what kind of a diplomatic deal the United States wants with North Korea. And little seems capable of convincing Kim Jong-un that he will be safe without nuclear…

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