The United States has long seen itself as a beacon of democracy and a global advocate of human rights and the rule of law. It has faltered, sometimes badly, undermining leaders whose views did not fit its strategic objectives and replacing them with pliant despots. Yet for the most part American presidents, Republican and Democratic, have believed that the United States should provide a moral compass to the world, encouraging people to pursue their right to self-government and human dignity and rebuking foreign leaders who fall short.
Like so much else under President Trump, though, this idea has now been turned on its head and people are worried about the very survival of the values on which America built its reputation and helped construct an entire international system, including the United Nations. The latest example is Mr. Trump’s decision to invite Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines, to the White House.
Though the Philippines is an ally and a democracy, Mr. Duterte is neither a democratic leader nor a worthy ally. For about two decades as mayor of Davao, he was accused of allowing death squads to roam the city and kill freely. Most victims were poor drug users and low-level criminals, but bystanders, children and political opponents were also caught up in the bloodshed.
After his election last year, Mr. Duterte took the killing campaign nationwide, effectively giving free license to the police and vigilantes. He has boasted about his tenure in Davao, and admitted to personally killing three kidnappers without trial. The mayhem got so bad that last week a Filipino lawyer formally asked the International Criminal Court to charge Mr. Duterte and 11 officials with mass murder and crimes against humanity over the extrajudicial killings of nearly 10,000 people over the past three decades.
During the last administration, Mr. Duterte disrespected President Barack Obama by calling him the “son of a whore” and threatened to abandon his country’s alliance with the United States for one with China. This is obviously not a man who should be welcomed to the White House.
Mr. Trump extended his invitation in a telephone call that was described as “very friendly.” Administration officials said the call was one of several the president made to reassure Southeast Asian leaders of America’s continuing commitment at a time when they were feeling neglected over Mr. Trump’s focus on China, Japan and North Korea. Administration officials said that Mr. Trump was looking to mend ties with the Philippines as a hedge against China’s expansion in the South China Sea. But there is no evidence that he consulted the State Department, or that the White House has done anything to prepare the groundwork for a Duterte visit. The normal way to mend diplomatic ties is to negotiate privately over months and have the process culminate in, not begin with, a White House meeting.
What is not in any doubt is Mr. Trump’s own authoritarian tendencies and his fondness for other strongman leaders who, like him, chafe at governmental checks and balances, including the courts. Mr. Trump reportedly admires Mr. Duterte’s aggressive rhetoric about fighting the Islamic State and cracking down on drugs. He has praised President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey for winning a disputed referendum that will give him vastly more power and invited him to the White House on May 16. He has already given a friendly reception to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, who was barred from the White House after staging a coup four years ago and arresting thousands of political opponents. He has replaced harsh criticism of China with praise for President Xi Jinping, and in the past displayed a bizarre affection for Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
American presidents must work with foreign leaders of all kinds to advance the national interest. But Mr. Trump erodes America’s reputation when he uncritically embraces those who show the least regard for human rights, rule of law and democracy.
Source: New York Times