Trump Brags About Having Great Relationship With Philippines Strongman

President Trump usually makes no effort to disguise how little he cares about human rights. In May, during his first overseas trip after his inauguration, he assured Arab despots and Muslim leaders in Riyadh, “We are not here to lecture.” He called President Xi Jinping of China “a very special man,” praised Egypt’s military strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sisi for doing “a fantastic job” and hailed the bloodstained President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, with whom he boasted of having a “great relationship.”

Yet as bad as Mr. Trump is when he ignores human rights, he is also corrosive when he speaks up. Perhaps the most disingenuous moment in his State of the Union address last month came when he condemned North Korea’s dictatorship and saluted Ji Seong-ho, a brave man who escaped famine and persecution there. Put aside the most obvious hypocrisy: Refugees like Mr. Ji are imperiled by Mr. Trump’s contempt for immigrants and slashing of refugee quotas. Rather, the deeper problem is how Mr. Trump sporadically invokes the suffering of foreigners when he thinks it promotes United States strategic priorities — in this case, the nuclear crisis with North Korea.

Mr. Trump rarely condemns repression overseas, except when Christians are being persecuted by Muslim extremists, or when human rights are abused by longtime foes of the United States — particularly Iran, Syria, Cuba, Venezuela and North Korea. Addressing the United Nations General Assembly in September, he denounced “the depraved regime in North Korea,” “the corrupt, destabilizing regime in Cuba” and the “socialist dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro” in Venezuela, while also calling Iran “a corrupt dictatorship behind the false guise of a democracy.”

Instead of viewing human rights as a universal ideal, Mr. Trump invokes them only strategically, when they are useful as a geopolitical cudgel.


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His deep cynicism about human rights is longstanding. In 1990, he offered respectful words for the bloody crushing of protesters in Tiananmen Square in June 1989: “The Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength.” Unmoved by the Arab Spring, he tweeted in September 2012, “We threw our ally Mubarak overboard and Egypt is now our enemy.” While campaigning for president, he enthused about torture and suggested killing the family members of terrorists.

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As president, Mr. Trump has welcomed thugs from Egypt, Turkey and Vietnam to the White House. In October, he hosted the leader of Thailand’s military-controlled government, who had been spurned from White House visits since leading a coup in 2014. Mr. Trump swoons when his autocratic Chinese or Saudi hosts welcome him with displays of military pageantry. Notwithstanding his recent rhetoric about North Korea, he praised Kim Jong-un — the murderous, dynastic tyrant of a totalitarian Stalinist regime with a gulag — as “a pretty smart cookie.”

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