Trump's Fondness for Strongmen Leaders Abroad

By Jamie Stiehm

May 15, 2019 5 min read

We the people are preoccupied and landlocked with the Mueller report on the Russia investigation, discussing what it reveals about the president's character, campaign and lowdown dealings.

But what if that's designed to distract us from noticing the wreckage of President Trump's foreign policy (a nice way to say it)? It's time to snap into a new clarity, to see that the president's actions and pals abroad are just as dreary as anything he does at home.

If you have tears, prepare to save them now.

Trump said that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would be meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin this week, setting the stage for a "principals meeting" reunion between ol' Vlad and Trump. Never mind appearances; it's as if Robert Mueller's 448-page report never happened. Besides, they miss each other. Can't you see them chortling over cigars and caviar? How they put Hillary Clinton in her place.

No tears yet. There's more.

Human rights activists who love democracy were horrified to see the authoritarian Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orban, get a warm reception in the Oval Office Monday. Trump praised Orban as tough but respected, telegraphing how he wishes to be seen by his subjects.

Orban has systemically suppressed the media and undermined fair elections since taking power almost a decade ago. He's anti-immigrant, too, earning Trump's total soul mate seal of approval.

Did you see the picture of the two heads of state together? Trump and Orban, unmasked, look like a pair of depraved emperors.

The president's courtship and love letter from North Korea's Kim Jong Un is a well-known jest, but his surreal summit meeting with the isolated dictator produced nothing of value and made the United States look foolish.

If Trump were capable of feeling shamed or embarrassed on the stage of Western democracy, that would be the time.

Since when has Trump spoken the word "democracy," anyway? Hold your tears.

Most serious of all is Trump's embrace of Saudi Arabia. Remember, the oil-rich kingdom was the first foreign visit he paid, which sent a strong statement around the world that the repressive regime's human rights abuses would not be a problem.

This was not a naive blunder for the new president; it was a deliberate, brazen move to defy any attempts to contain or normalize his presidency.

The Saudi crown prince, Mohammed Bin Salman, is effectively running the cruel desert kingdom instead of his aging father, the king. He's affectionately known as "MBS" to the elite world-money crowd.

Much of the Western world has looked the other way as the rise of Saudi-fueled Wahhabi extremism has spread throughout the Middle East and even European capitals such as Brussels, Belgium.

The crown prince was in power during the worst cut from Saudi Arabia, the bloody murder of a Saudi dissenter and Virginia resident who wrote columns on the Middle East for The Washington Post.

Shock waves washed up on shores the world over after Jamal Khashoggi's gruesome death inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. He was literally left in pieces.

Trump got the full briefing from the Central Intelligence Agency, laying the murder at the Saudi regime's door. He was unfazed. The death would not affect our business or relationship with Saudi Arabia, he explicitly stated last fall. As for whether MBS knew: "Maybe he did, and maybe he didn't."

This is when the nation ceased to be the last best hope on Earth, to quote Abraham Lincoln.

Trump has also met with or praised "strongmen" leaders of Egypt and Kazakhstan, among other nations, The New York Times reported. It's catching.

Along with authoritarian friends, Trump has hawks at home spoiling for a fight with Iran. Pompeo and John Bolton, Trump's national security adviser, are each hostile and aggressive toward Iran and make a potent combination. Europe doesn't want that fight; it had the sense to stay in the Iran nuclear deal when Trump pulled out.

One last point from the observation deck: Trump seems borderline rude to women heads of state. Maybe that's just me. I'll let you know.

Shed them now.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, please visit the website

Photo credit: geralt at Pixabay

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