Trump and Duterte: A Match Made in Authoritarian Hell

[Content Note: Discussion of violence, killing, rape.]

In April, Donald Trump placed a call to Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, during which he extended an invitation to Duterte to visit the White House. This was met with a significant amount of outrage, given that Duterte is an authoritarian nightmare who has been accused of ordering extrajudicial killings of drug suspects, has expressed antipathy for the LGBTQ community, and [CN: video autoplays] once said of the gang rape and murder of a woman held in prison in the town of which he was then mayor that he was disappointed the mayor wasn't given first dibs.

Now a transcript of that call has been obtained by the Washington Post, and it turns out that Trump's invite was merely the tip of an incredible iceberg.

1. Trump complimented Duterte on his murderous anti-drug campaign, insulting President Obama in the process.
[Duterte's] administration has overseen a brutal extrajudicial campaign that has resulted in the killings of thousands of suspected drug dealers.

Trump has not spoken out against that strategy, and in their call he praised Duterte for doing an "unbelievable job on the drug problem."

"Many countries have the problem, we have the problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that," Trump said, according to the transcript.

After Duterte replied that drugs are the "scourge of my nation now and I have to do something to preserve the Filipino nation," Trump appeared to take a swipe at his predecessor, Barack Obama, who had canceled a bilateral meeting with Duterte after the Philippines leader insulted him.

"I understand that and fully understand that and I think we had a previous president who did not understand that," Trump said.
At the time it was reported only that Trump had invited Duterte to the White House, John Sifton, the Asia advocacy director of Human Rights Watch, said: "By essentially endorsing Duterte's murderous war on drugs, Trump is now morally complicit in future killings." And that was before we knew that Trump had not merely tacitly endorsed Duterte's violent campaign, but had explicitly endorsed it and told Duterte he's doing an "unbelievable job on the drug problem."

2. Trump disclosed to Duterte the location of two U.S. nuclear submarines, while discussing North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un's mental health.
In the April 29 call, Trump sought Duterte's input on whether Kim is "stable or not stable" and expressed some satisfaction in North Korea's recent failed missile tests, noting that "all his rockets are crashing. That's the good news," according to a transcript of the conversation...

Duterte responded that Kim is "playing with his bombs, his toys" and offered that "his mind is not working well and he just might go crazy one moment." That prompted Trump to point out that the United States has "a lot of firepower over there," including "two nuclear submarines" sent by the Pentagon to the region last month.

Later in the call, Trump raised the stakes of the escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula when he observed: "We can't let a madman with nuclear weapons let on the loose like that. We have a lot of firepower, more than he has, times 20 — but we don't want to use it."
It's really something to read Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duterte ridiculing the stability of Kim Jong Un. The world is definitely in safe hands.

That aside, Trump's casual disclosure of the (secret) location of two U.S. nuclear subs is further evidence that this man has neither discretion nor sense. And any argument about the president having a right to share classified and/or sensitive information is moot when said information is circulated in a transcript prepared by a foreign government and we're all reading about it in the Washington Post.

On another note: It's not at all clear that the aggressively ignorant Trump even knows that a nuclear submarine is any submarine powered by a nuclear reactor, whereas a ballistic missile submarine is "a submarine deploying submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) with nuclear warheads." He also imagines the U.S. military has only twenty times the firepower of North Korea.

3. Trump asserted that if China doesn't deal with North Korea, the U.S. will.
Most of his conversation with Duterte focused on how to deal with North Korea and whether China can exert more leverage on Kim's regime. Trump acknowledged after meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping in mid-April that "it's not so easy" for Beijing to alter Pyongyang's behavior.

But when he asked Duterte whether China has "power over" Kim, the Philippines president responded: "Yes, at the end of the day, the last card, the ace, has to be with China. It's only China."

...Trump told Duterte he hopes "China solves the problem … But if China doesn't do it, we will do it." Duterte then offered to call Xi and emphasize the importance of altering Pyongyang's behavior.

"You can tell him I am counting on him," Trump replied. "I have a very good relationship with him. I had him in Florida for two days and got to know him well. He is a good guy."

...Toward the end of the call, Trump switched topics to invite Duterte to the White House, calling him a "good man."

"I will love to have you in the Oval Office," Trump said. "Any time you want to come … Seriously, if you want to come over, just let us know. Just take care of yourself, and we will take care of North Korea."
"We will take care of North Korea." Rewind to Mike Pence using a dogwhistle aimed at North Korea while threatening: "Those who would challenge our resolve or our readiness should know: We will defeat any attack and meet any use of conventional or nuclear weapons with an overwhelming and effective American response!"

It is also extremely troubling, to put it mildly, that Trump enlisted Duterte as a go-between with Xi on such a sensitive diplomatic issue.

Bluntly: This guy doesn't have the first clue how to president.

And his terrifying ignorance, his cavalier indiscretion, and his jovial chit-chat with a murderous dictator are pointed evidence that he has neither the competence nor decency to be president.

Which was glaringly apparent long before he held the office, to anyone who bothered to look. Or care.

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