Trump’s praise for Duterte’s underscores their shared contempt for human rights

Trump’s praise for Duterte’s drug war underscores his contempt for human rights 

via Washington Post’s:  Daily 202 – by James Hohmann with Breanne Deppish – May 24, 2017

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THE BIG IDEA: It’s one thing to not “lecture” foreign governments who abuse human rights. It’s something else entirely to praise them for it. And that’s exactly what Donald Trump did last month when he called Rodrigo Duterte.

The Post’s David Nakamura and Barton Gellman yesterday obtained a transcript of his April 29th phone call with the president of the Philippines.

“I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job (you’re doing) on the drug problem,” Trump told Duterte at the start of their conversation, according to the document. “Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.”

“Thank you Mr. President,” replied Duterte. “This is the scourge of my nation now and I have to do something to preserve the Filipino nation.”

Trump, who affectionately referred to Duterte as “Rodrigo” during their chat, then took an unsolicited dig at Barack Obama.

“I … fully understand that and I think we had a previous president who did not understand that,” the U.S. president said. “You are a good man … Keep up the good work. … You are doing an amazing job.”

The context of Trump’s comments matters: Duterte is an authoritarian thug. He has overseen a brutal extrajudicial campaign that has resulted in the killings of thousands of suspected drug dealers. His abuses are well documented, including in reports by the U.S. State Department and Human Rights WatchDuterte called Obama the “son of a whore” during a press conference last September. When he promised to curse out the then-president if he brought up his death squads, the White House canceled a bilateral sit-down that had been scheduled. When Obama later raised concerns about his human rights record, Duterte replied that he could “go to hell.” (He often uses unprintable profanity.)

Duterte has publicly compared his campaign to crack down on drugs to the Holocaust, saying he would like to “slaughter” millions of drug addicts just like Adolf Hitler “massacred” millions of Jewish people. “Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now, there are 3 million drug addicts. … I’d be happy to slaughter them,” he told reporters last September. While Hitler (who actually killed closer to six million Jews) spoke of a “final solution,” Duterte says his campaign of mass killings is the only way to “finish the problem.”

Eleven days before Trump phoned him, Duterte told a group of Filipino workers in the Middle East that if they lose their jobs because of the falling price of oil they can always come home to work for him. “If you lose your job, I’ll give you one: Kill all the drug addicts,” he said, according to the Philippine Star. “Help me kill addicts … Let’s kill addicts every day.”

The New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize this year for a series of powerful photographs “showing the callous disregard for human life in the Philippines brought about” by Duterte’s policies. A witness has testified that before Duterte became president, when he was a mayor of Davao City, he paid a squad of hit men to carry out summary executions that involved feeding a body to a crocodile, chopping up corpses and dumping slashed bodies into the sea.

Duterte has boasted to a group of Manila businessmen, on camera, about killing criminals in cold blood when he was mayor: “In Davao I used to do it personally, just to show the (cops) that if I can do it, why can’t you?”He joked last year that the victim of a gang rape was “so beautiful” that he wishes he had “been first.” Yesterday he declared martial law on the southern island of Mindanao, as his security forces battled heavily armed militants linked to the Islamic State.

Trump caught his own aides off guard during his phone call to Duterte by extending an open invitation for him to come visit the White House at any time, with no preconditions. “I will love to have you in the Oval Office,” Trump said, per the transcript. “Seriously, if you want to come over, just let us know.”

A senior administration official, who confirmed that the quotes in the transcript produced by the Philippines government are accurate, said that the president was not condoning Duterte’s “individual tactics.” Rather, the official said, this was Trump’s “way of expressing solidarity over a common scourge.” But that’s not at all clear from the transcript, and it’s certainly not the impression any reasonable person on the other end of the line would have been left with.

Trying to advance our national interest, previous presidents of both parties have certainly looked the other way instead of confronting human rights abuses. But they felt they had no choice, especially during the Cold War, and none seemed to relish this dark side of realpolitik. As part of his so-called “America First” agenda, Trump seems not just content but determined to have America abdicate its moral leadership in the world. It’s hard to claim American Exceptionalism when Trump praises Duterte this way. It’s hard to say we’re a shining city upon a hill when the American president consistently treats despotic strongmen with greater respect than democratically-elected allies.

The president’s sometimes over-the-top praise for totalitarian leaders has been covered extensively, from Russia’s Vladimir Putin to Chinese President Xi Jinping, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Thailand Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.

Coincidentally, Duterte was meeting with Putin at the Kremlin yesterday around the time that the Post’s story about the transcript broke. He’s referred to the Russian president as his “favorite hero.” This is from the write-up by RT, the government-financed propaganda network: “Duterte, who called Russia a ‘reliable partner,’ also emphasized that Manila is ready to develop relations with Moscow and is looking forward to purchase Russian arms.” Putin also lavished him with praise.

Words matter: Autocrats have heard Trump loud and clear, and they’re emboldened. Abby Phillip and David Nakamura note that almost no attention was paid to the concerns that have made Saudi Arabia rank among the most repressive nations on Earth during the president’s visit this weekend. “Political protests in Saudi Arabia can be punishable by a death sentence and freedom of expression is severely limited. But Monday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross highlighted the absence of dissenters as a sign of the ‘genuinely good mood’ during Trump’s visit. … And Sunday, a lone event on Trump’s schedule aimed at bolstering civil society in Saudi Arabia was scrapped.”

“We are not here to lecture,” Trump said during his Sunday speech in Riyadh, speaking to about 50 political leaders of Muslim nations, many of which are led by strongmen. “We are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership, based on shared interests and values.”

 

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