President Donald Trump has a strange fondness for brutal dictators. Not only has the commander-in-chief publicly praised the totalitarian leaders infamous for a plethora of human rights offenses, his bizarre list of favorite foreign strongmen seems to be growing at an alarming rate.
Case in point: The commander-in-chief is drawing fire from critics and rights advocates alike after inviting Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to the White House.
The Trump administration said the president had a “very friendly conversation” with his Filipino counterpart, where the two discussed North Korea along with the “the fact that the Philippine government is fighting very hard to rid its country of drugs, a scourge that affects many countries throughout the world.”
The foreign firebrand leader, who assumed office last year in June, has encouraged extrajudicial killings in his country under the auspice of war on drugs — an epidemic that has claimed thousands of lives, including those of children as young as 9.
Duterte also sparked international outrage after calling former President Barack Obama “son of a wh***”, referring to U.S. ambassador Philip Goldberg as “gay son of a b****” and admitting to personally killing suspected criminals during his time as the mayor of Davao City.
He is also on record saying some journalists deserve to be assassinated.
During his election campaign, Duterte made several horrifying comments about rape — the worst of which was making light of the 1989 gang rape and murder of Australian missionary Jacqueline Hamill.
"The discussion that transpired between the presidents was warm, with President Trump expressing his understanding and appreciation of the challenges facing the Philippine president, especially on the matter of dangerous drugs," a Philippine spokesperson said in a statement following Trump’s chat with the foul-mouthed Philippines leader.
As troubling as that was, Duterte is not the only controversial strongmen Trump has invited to the nation’s capital.
Apparently, the former reality TV star has also extended a similar invitation to Thailand’s Prime Minister and junta chief, Prayut Chan-o-Cha, who jailed scores of dissidents after orchestrating a successful military coup back in 2014.
“The two leaders underscored their commitment to the longstanding alliance between the United States and Thailand, which actively contributes to peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region,” read the White House read out. “President Trump and Prime Minister Prayut expressed a strong shared interest in strengthening the trade and economic ties between the two countries.”
To put things into perspective, here are some of the other autocrats whom the leader of the free world has praised.
Trump sparked outraged after praising North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un as a “smart cookie" whom he would be “honored” to meet under “right circumstances.”
Keeping in mind that DPRK threatened to nuke the U.S. while its government blamed Trump of provoking a “vicious cycle” by tweeting out inflammatory statements, this high praise seemed a little inappropriate.
“At a very young age, he [Kim] was able to assume power. A lot of people, I’m sure, tried to take that power away, whether it was his uncle or anybody else. And he was able to do it. So obviously, he’s a pretty smart cookie,” Trump told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
The silver lining here is that the president has not yet invited Kim to the White House — a move that would be highly unprecedented as no U.S. president has ever met a North Korean leader after he came to power. However, seeing how the business mogul always manages to surprise people with his usual irrational and nonsensical self, it might not remain that way for long.
The president’s apparent love affair with Russian President Vladimir Putin has drawn widespread criticism.
Apart from the alleged Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election and the new administration’s alleged ties with Kremlin, Trump had made some very unconventional remarks about the man infamous for having his critics mysteriously disappeared.
"I've already said, he is really very much of a leader. I mean, you can say, 'Oh, isn't that a terrible thing' — the man has very strong control over a country," Trump told NBC's Matt Lauer in September 2016. "Now, it's a very different system, and I don't happen to like the system. But certainly, in that system, he's been a leader, far more than our president has been a leader."
In another interview with former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly after assuming office, Trump appeared to be creating a “moral equivalency” between the U.S. and Russia. When asked if he respected Putin, he replied, “I do respect Putin.”
O’Reilly then called Putin a “killer,” prompting the president to defend Putin by insulting his own country.
“There are a lot of killers,” Trump shot back. “We’ve got a lot of killers. What, you think our country’s so innocent?”
Abdel Fattah el-Sisi
The president’s disregard for human rights violations could not have been clearer than when he hosted Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a dictator who overthrew his country’s democratic government in a military coup, in the White House.
It was a first for the despotic leader who, despite coming to power in 2013, had not been invited to Washington as Obama refused to meet him over concerns about extrajudicial killings, mass detentions, torture, and mysterious disappearances of journalists, aid workers, activists, students and scholars in Egypt.
“I just want to let everybody know in case there was any doubt that we are very much behind President Sisi,” Trump told the press at the time. “He’s done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation. We are very much behind Egypt and the people of Egypt.”
If killing civilians, torturing reporters and incarcerating activists — including at least seven Americans — while making things worse for your own country is considered doing a “fantastic job,” then Sisi has undoubtedly surpassed expectations.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan
After Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared a narrow victory in a referendum created to grant him massive powers and cement his autocratic rule, the U.S. president called him and congratulated him.
He has almost expressed admiration for the Middle Eastern leader for how he was able to handle last year's failed military coup.
“I do give great credit to him for turning it around. You know, the first hour, it seemed like it was over. Then all of a sudden, and the amazing thing is the one that won that was the people,” Trump told the New York Times.
When asked if Turkish government’s mass arrests and suspensions worried him, the business mogul added, “I think right now when it comes to civil liberties, our country has a lot of problems. And I think it’s very hard for us to get involved in other countries when we don’t know what we are doing and we can’t see straight in our own country.”
In the aftermath of the July coup attempt, Turkish authorities arrested 40,000 people and sacked or suspended at least 120,000 from a wide range of professions — including soldiers, police, teachers and public servants, over alleged links with U.S. based cleric Fethullah Gulen.
Trump's embrace of these foreign leaders has alarmed the human rights experts.
“Inviting these men to the White House in effect places the United States’ seal of approval on their heinous actions,” said Rob Berschinski, senior vice president at Human Rights First. “Nothing excuses President Trump’s clear inclination to reward mass murderers and torturers with undeserved honors.”
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