As it turns out, President Donald Trump’s obsession with world dictators is all part of the United State’s new foreign policy, which mainly consists of forming relations with other governments without any regard to their history of human rights abuses or how they treat their people.
At least that is what Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appeared to be telling the remaining State Department employees when he addressed the administration’s “America First” vision.
Considering how baffling Trump’s diplomatic strategy has been so far, Tillerson’s comprehensive roadmap of the U.S. foreign policy could not have come sooner.
However, instead of reassuring the public and diplomats alike, the former energy executive only managed to make matters worse by confirming what human rights advocates had feared the most: the White House does not care about human rights violations. It only cares about fostering good relationship with foreign autocrats, even if they are notorious for murdering their citizens.
“We were promoting relations. We were promoting economic activity. We were promoting trade with a lot of these emerging economies, and we just kind of lost track of how we were doing,” Tillerson began his 40-minutes speech. “And as a result, things got a little bit out of balance.”
He then went on to tout the new plan, explaining how it is always “America First” for “national security” and “economic prosperity.”
“Our partnerships and alliances are critical to our success in both those areas,” he added. “I think it is really important that all of us understand the difference between policy and values… Our values around freedom, human dignity, and the way people are treated – those are our values. Those are not our policies.”
In the past, the U.S. has enjoyed alliances with a number of countries – such as Saudi Arabia – that do not share American values. However, for most part of his young presidency, Trump has made headlines for praising a number of strongmen.
For instance, after meeting the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the man credited with killing more than 800 protesters in a single day, the U.S. commander-in-chief praised him for doing a “fantastic job.”
Trump has not only defended Russian President Vladimir Putin, notorious for silencing his critics in mysterious ways, but has even expressed his respect for the despot leader. He recently called North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un a “smart cookie” and drew outrage for inviting Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, the foul-mouth leader who encouraged extrajudicial killings in his country under the guise of war on drugs, to the White House.
Trump was also one of the first world leaders to place a congratulatory phone call to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after he narrowly won the referendum that experts argue would weaken the country’s democracy.
Tillerson’s explanation of “America First” mantra lined up perfectly with all of this.
“In some circumstances, if you condition our national security efforts on someone adopting our values, we probably can’t achieve our national security goals,” the former Exxon CEO continued. “If we condition too heavily that others just adopt this value we have come to over a long history of our own, it really creates obstacles to our ability to advance on our national security interests our economic interests.”
Interestingly, the secretary of state refrained from discussing the administrations proposed budget cuts or how and when the State Department plans to fill the top positions that remain vacant even after the first 100 days.
“This approach suggests that the U.S. is just going to look at what works this week or next week and not what the situation will be long term,” Andrea Prasow, the Washington director for Human Rights Watch, told Vice, expressing concerns that human rights abuses may worsen the famine and increase numbers of refugees, subsequently strengthening terrorist and extremist organizations.