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Trump Embraces Murderous Drug Warrior, Inviting Him to the White House

The president praised Philippine strongman Rodrigo Duterte for "fighting very hard to rid his country of drugs."

YouTubeYouTubeOver the weekend, President Trump had what the White House called "a very friendly conversation" with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, whose bloody war on drugs has killed thousands of people since he took office last summer. Trump praised Duterte, a tough-talking populist whose style resembles that of his American counterpart, for "fighting very hard to rid [his] country of drugs" and invited him to visit the White House.

As of April 23, according to numbers reported by the Philippine National Police (PNP), the anti-drug campaign Trump praised had resulted in the deaths of 2,717 "suspected drug personalities killed in police operations," often in fishy circumstances. Duterte, who won office while promising to fill Manila Bay with the bodies of criminals and after his election urged Philippinos to murder drug dealers and addicts, encourages police to shoot first and ask questions later, creating an atmosphere of impunity in which extrajudicial executions disguised as self-defense proliferate. Human Rights Watch (HRW) found "a damning pattern of unlawful police conduct in these killings, designed to paint a veneer of legality over summary executions." As of January 9, according to the PNP's numbers, another 3,271 people had died in "extrajudicial, vigilante-style, or unexplained killings." HRW says many of these homicides "are in fact death-squad-style extrajudicial executions by police and police agents."

After talking to Trump in December, Duterte reported that the president-elect "was wishing me success in my campaign against the drug problems" and "understood the way we are handling it." This time around, a Duterte spokesman described Trump as "expressing his understanding and appreciation of the challenges facing the Philippine president, especially on the matter of dangerous drugs." The message Duterte is getting from Trump is that there is nothing wrong with his homicidal anti-drug crusade. "By essentially endorsing Duterte's murderous war on drugs," John Sifton, HRW's Asia advocacy director told The New York Times, "Trump is now morally complicit in future killings."

The Times claims the president's chumminess with Duterte left some of his aides "stun[ned]" and "slack-jawed." It reports that "two senior officials said they expected the State Department and the National Security Council, both of which were caught off guard by the invitation, to raise objections internally." Externally, however, the administration sees nothing amiss in Trump's embrace of the Philippine strongman, which fits a pattern of admiration for authoritarian leaders around the world.

On ABC's This Week yesterday, Jonathan Karl, quoting HRW, noted that "Duterte's outspoken endorsement of the [anti-drug] campaign implicates him and other senior officials in possible incitement of violence, instigation of murder and command responsibility for crimes against humanity." In light of those charges, Karl asked White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, "why is President Trump honoring President Duterte now with a visit to the White House?" Priebus said "we need cooperation among our partners in Southeast Asia" to confront the threat posed by North Korea's nuclear arms. "This is somebody with an abysmal human rights record who has been accused of basically mass extrajudicial killings," Karl said. "Did that not come up in the phone call?" Apparently not. "The issue on the table is North Korea," Priebus replied, "and there is nothing right now facing this country and facing the region that is a bigger threat than what's happening in North Korea."

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    If the president had just talked with a populist anti-drug activist (if there is such a thing) he would be singing that guy's praises. Trump's value isn't his independent, critical thinking.

  • pan fried wylie||

    "I scored 5 goals today."

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Christ, what a butas ng puwit.

  • colorblindkid||

    I understand the anger at this, but is Duterte any worse than the Saudi royal family or any dictator in Africa or the Middle East who has come to the White House over the last few decades?

  • Shirley Knott||

    Of course not. But it's "the wrong team" and any mud will do in a mud fight.
    Few things rise the level of Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein or Bush holding hands with King Abdullah, but we take what we can get.
    If you think 'team' matters, you haven't been paying attention. Murderous thugs in the white house? Birds of a feather.

  • CatoTheChipper||

    Duterte's bodycount is higher than the Saudi royal family's ... as long as you leave out the possible involvement of a faction of the royal family in the creation of Al Qaeda, 9/11, the rise of ISIS, etc., and their certain involvement in the humanitarian disaster of Yemen.

    Of course, the humanitarian disaster of Yemen started as a joint venture between the Saudis and the Obama Administration. As was the humanitarian disaster of Libya. The humanitarian disaster of Iraq belongs to Bush, but before then Clinton's secretary of state was content to send a 100,000 Iraqi children to early graves to accomplish whatever her policy goals were.

    If we're going to judge relationships among politicians on the basis of bodycounts, it makes more sense to question the morality of the foreign leader for having met with the reprobate US president, rather than vice versa.

  • Bob K||

    No difference between them but usually you don't hear about the president praising them for their illiberal policies. Of course that is what Duerte said Trump said. So who knows if Duerte is lying about Trump's support and the Trump admin doesn't want to call him a liar because of North Korea/China issues.

  • Zeb||

    I suppose if you value rule of law as a good in and of itself there is a distinction. Yeah, the Saudis and many others also murder lots of drug users and dealers. But at least they do it through the proper legal channels.

    The president has to deal with world leaders, scumbags or no. But if Duterte is there because Trump thinks he's doing a good job with his drug war, that's rather troubling.

  • gaoxiaen||

    He's worse than Marcos or the Catholic Church. Olongapo was the ne plus ultra of ports on a Westpac, when Marcos ruled the roost.

  • gaoxiaen||

    Especially if your duty day included Shore Patrol, and you were off-duty at 1:00.

  • Robert||

    Or the head of the Bad Korea, whom he called a smart cookie?

    Or...you know who else?

  • Mickey Rat||

    The outrage here is amusing after Richman's "make nice with the Kim regime" piece over the weekend.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    They publish pieces on the weekends?

  • WakaWaka||

    Well that's different. He didn't meet with Kim yet, so no one can complain about that yet. Never in American history has an American president ever praised or allied with a tyrant. This known. This is not normal, because history just began this past January.

  • Mickey Rat||

    "You have a police state? That's not good, but who are we to interfere? We can still be friendly."

    "You have an anti-drug police state? You monster! We want nothing to do with you!"

  • Homple||

    Is Trump embracing Duterte or trying to talk some sense into him?

  • gaoxiaen||

    "He's a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch."

    some US President

  • Gene||

    Would we expect any less at this point? The base loves them some tuff guys.

  • creech||

    I can't think of one president in my lifetime (back to FDR) who hasn't yucked it up with some foreign scumbag (domestic scumbags too). What is so unusual about this one?

  • Don't look at me.||

    If it was the sea hag talking him up, it would have been ok. see how it works?

  • knockatize||

    I recall no such clutching of pearls when Jimmy Carter, Infallible Human Rights Prince and Bringer of Peace, invited sweethearts like Robert Mugabe and Nicolae Ceausescu to the White House.

  • Ken Shultz||

    We're talking about what Trump said and who he invited to the White House?

    I suppose that's a step above the MSM writing about Trump's tweets.

    The appropriate question in foreign policy s whether what Trump does in regards to Duerte is in America's security interests. My understanding is that China pushing its territorial claims in the South China sea has a military component--apparently China needs its subs in the area in order to hit the U.S. in a nuclear war.

    It should also be noted that putting pressure on China has always been the secret to shutting down North Korea's nuclear testing. Having the Philippines on our side may be an important part of that--regardless of what Duerte does within his own borders.

    The question is not about what Trump says, tweets, or whom he invites to the White House. The question is what's in the best interests of the U.S., not whether Stalin is a nice guy. If working with Stalin to defeat the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese is in the best interests of the U.S., then that's what we should do.

  • TW||

    You make a good point - whether Duerte are his supporters are murdering drug dealers within their own country is several orders of magnitude less important than shutting down North Korea's nuclear testing. The way to stop North Korea is through China and if making nice with Duerte (rather than pushing him and the Philippines into China's sphere of influence as Obama nearly did) helps us achieve that, it's worth it.

  • Thomas O.||

    Sigh... here we go. It's Dubya all over again.

    "The Saudis are abusing women! The UAE kills drug offenders!"

    "But... IRAQ! 9/11! IRAQ! 9/11!"

    "Duterte wants anyone to kill druggies and any innocent people SUSPECTED of doing drugs!"

    "But... NORTH KOREA! KIM JONG-UN!"

  • Ken Shultz||

    Yeah, it's hard to believe we would do things differently depending on what's in our interests at any particular point in time.

    We should just pick a plan and stick with it--no matter how the situation changes.

    It's aggravating when businesses do this, too. Just because a new product doesn't sell is no reason to stop manufacturing it.

    Smart people know that you have to keep doing whatever you said you were going to do before--because you said it. Saying things is so much more important than what you do.

    Oh, and we should only do business with people if they have hearts of gold, too--no matter what's in our best interests. But the three important things are 1) never changing direction, 2) what you say out loud, and 3) who you invite to the White House.

  • Mickey Rat||

    Is Non-interference a principle or a suggestion?

    You may argue either, but you cannot argue it is principle when you do not care about the issue but argue it is suggestion when you are personally offended by some government's action.

  • Chip Your Pets||

    If Trump had snubbed Duterte, Reason would be complaining about his recklessness in pissing off a key ally in the Pacific and possibly sending them over to the side of the PRC.

  • Chip Your Pets||

    The president praised Philippine strongman Rodrigo Duterte for "fighting very hard to rid his country of drugs."

    Strongman? Seriously? He is a democratically elected president less than a year into his term. Note that he was elected AFTER, and possibly because of, his statement of his tough-on-crime stances. You may not like his policies but that does not make him a dictator.

  • Inigo Montoya||

    You know who else was democratically elected and, based on his tough-talking rhetoric, had paramilitary good squads murdering people in the streets based on a purported belief they were strengthening the homeland?

  • Chip Your Pets||

    Obama?

  • gaoxiaen||

    Every President since Johnson.

  • Don't look at me.||

    Reagan?

  • MikeP2||

    http://cnnphilippines.com/news.....urvey.html

    Duterte enjoys extensive support at home. What happened to the "don't dictate US morals to the rest of the world" philosophy that is the basis for so many Reason articles?

    Until Duterte starts blatantly rigging elections like Chavez or Hussein and enjoying 'dear leader for life' status, perhaps we should just mind our own friggin business, eh?

  • Inigo Montoya||

    Given that Duterte is such a murderous POS especially about victimless crimes, I'm going to actually give Trump the benefit of the doubt on this one.

    I suspect the invitation is a ruse, and Duterte will have an unfortunate accident or become the tragic victim of a car-jacking (Washington, is after-all, a high crime city) perpetrated by black ops masquerading as street thugs. Trump will express regret while ridding Philippines of a scourge...But I could be wrong.

  • gaoxiaen||

    If only.

  • NoVaNick||

    An interesting fact about Duterte is that he spearheaded the first smoking ban in the Phillipines when he was mayor of Davao. Of course, not all anti-smoking crusaders become murderous tyrants, but there seems to be a link in some politicians between dictatorial tendencies and hatred of tobacco (see Turkey's Erdogan for a modern example, and the German leader from 1933-1945 for a historic one.) So far, Trump hasn't turned on smokers, but I wouldn't be surprised if he does once he is re-elected and doesn't need their votes anymore.

  • Don't look at me.||

    And remember, he doesn't drink either.

  • MikeP2||

    Can't believe you went Godwin over smoking bans. That's friggin hilarious. Shockingly idiotic....but friggin hilarious.

  • DrZ||

    Don't forget most liberal cities have smoking bans. Does this mean their mayors and council people are going to become murderous tyrants.

    Then there is the high taxes on cigarettes in NY leading to criminal sales.

  • JuanQPublic||

    I used to tell foreign friends that hey, Americans don't like to be told what to do in their private lives. They value privacy, rule of law and freedom to say what they please. They tend to demand that all authority prove its legitimacy. They loathe aristocracy.

    While that didn't speak for all Americans, that was the general tone. You really can't make that case anymore. Distinguishing (and in my opinion huge strengths) characteristics of America are subsiding fast.

  • DrZ||

    Not defending Mr. Trump, but there sure are a lot of people who are jumping on the bandwagon that Mr. Trump and Mr. Duarte are "friends".

    How do we know that the essence of the upcoming meeting between the two isn't going to include a message from Mr. Trump to lay off?

    If he shuns Duarte that can never happen unless there is some trade candy that Mr. Trump can take away.

    Hold your friends close, your enemies closer.

  • woodrow||

    Has any other president actually gone to business school? Trump is using Sun Tzu.

    Never underestimate your enemy. Trump already called kim jon un skilled at jockeying his way into power. The palace intrigue was obviously intense and resulted in the execution of his uncle. Little fat boy won.

    Also choose the battle ground if u can. Trump want it to be in Asia. IE missle defense in Japan and South Korea.

    Finally make the enemies of your enemy your friends. China and Philippines.

    We are already at war with North Korea.

    Hopefullly it can be one without a shot fired.

  • JuanQPublic||

    Ronald Reagan: "President Rios Montt is a man of great personal integrity and commitment who wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans, and is getting a "bum rap" on human rights."

    Reagan was referring to Guatemalan dictator Montt, who he met with, who ran a dictatorship that is widely known to have mass murdered, raped and indefinitely imprisoned political dissenters, petty law breakers and others. His regime is also well known to have "disappeared" thousands of their family members as well.

    The US has been supporting client states like this for decades. While Duterte is undeniably running an awful, murderous regime, it is certainly not unprecedented for a US president to snuggle up to god-awful leaders. See Carter, Clinton and Bush. Plenty of examples.

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