Trump’s favorite dictators: In reviled tyrants, GOP nominee finds traits to praise
Trump’s regular praise for authoritarian governments and dictators has
come under fresh scrutiny this week following his latest laudatory
comments about the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, whose human
rights abuses and support for international terrorism made him a top
enemy of the United States for decades.
“He was a bad guy,
really bad guy. But you know what he did well? He killed terrorists. He
did that so good,” Trump said during a campaign event in Raleigh, N.C.,
Tuesday evening. “They didn’t read them the rights — they didn’t talk,
they were a terrorist, it was over. Today, Iraq is Harvard for
terrorism. You want to be a terrorist, you go to Iraq. It’s like
Harvard. Okay? So sad.”
The remarks have revived worries among
Republican lawmakers and members of the party’s foreign-policy
establishment, many of whom have become increasingly despondent over
Trump’s loose and threatening rhetoric on international relations. Many
critics in both parties also say that the presumptive GOP presidential
nominee is laying out an alarmingly dark worldview that should give
voters serious pause.
“This follows a disturbing trend of Trump
relating to the way brutal tyrants executed policy in their countries. I
do think that there’s something dark about Trump’s view of the world,”
said Republican strategist Tim Miller, a former Jeb Bush aide who has
played an active role in the anti-Trump movement. “When a person running
for president continually compliments brutal, undemocratic dictators
and their methods, I think it’s fair to have some concerns that those
are methods that they might be interested in deploying if necessary.”
commented on Hussein’s record several times throughout the Republican
primary season, saying that Iraq would have been better off if he were
still in power in part because of his brutal tactics against dissenters.
He also spoke dismissively in December about Hussein’s use of chemical
weapons against the Kurds: “Saddam Hussein throws a little gas, everyone
goes crazy. ‘Oh he’s using gas!’ ”
Trump has also repeatedly
praised Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean dictator Kim
Jong Un as “strong” leaders “unlike what we have in this country,”
citing the control they have over their people. When Putin complimented
Trump last year, Trump called it “a great honor,” and pranksters have
painted murals in several cities showing the two men kissing.
In January, he also mused favorably about the North Korean strongman’s brutal consolidation of power in the country.
you look at North Korea, this guy, I mean, he’s like a maniac, okay?
And you’ve got to give him credit,” Trump said during a campaign event
in Iowa. “He goes in, he takes over, and he’s the boss. It’s incredible.
He wiped out the uncle. He wiped out this one, that one.”
Kim was formally sanctioned by the United States for human rights violations Wednesday.
comments regarding Hussein this week were met with particular furor, in
part because the race has effectively entered the general election
phase and because of Hussein’s brutal record and long history of
conflict with the United States, including a failed attempt to
assassinate then-President George H.W. Bush.
past comments on this were overshadowed by other crazier, wackier, more
offensive things, but it stood out yesterday,” Miller said.
Clinton campaign released a statement by senior Clinton adviser Jake
Sullivan that took Trump’s foreign-policy judgment to task — and sought
to provide cover for Clinton amid the fallout over the FBI’s findings
about her use of a private email server while secretary of state.
Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), who has endorsed Trump, distanced
himself forcefully from the candidate’s Hussein comments. “He was one of
the 20th century’s most evil people. He was up there. He committed mass
genocide against his own people using chemical weapons,” Ryan said on
Fox News Channel late Tuesday. Among other Republicans, Trump’s staunchest backers offered a full-throated defenses while others kept their distance Wednesday.
comment was just a factual comment that Saddam Hussein did not have a
terrorist problem,” said Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), one of Trump’s
biggest cheerleaders in Congress. “But the void created when he was
deposed and then Barack Obama had no plan afterwards was the beginning
Other Republicans were more skeptical.
I’m certainly not going to disagree with anybody that said Saddam
Hussein did a lot of bad things. But he killed a lot of people — not
just terrorists. So, he was no friend of the United States,” said Rep.
Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a Trump supporter.
added: “I don’t have any doubt that anybody looking at Saddam Hussein’s
record would recognize what a terrifically evil person he was. And the
world’s better off without him.”
Rep. Peter T.
King (R-N.Y.), a national security hawk who supports Trump nominally,
offered a brief response. “I supported the war in Iraq. And I’ll leave
it at that,” King said.
On foreign policy, the real estate mogul
has fashioned an unconventional, hybrid “America First” posture that
alternates between promises to stay out of overseas conflicts and vows
to kill terrorists en masse and target their families.
routinely claims — falsely — that he was always against the Iraq War,
blasting other Republicans for the conflict and knocking Clinton for
advocating additional interventions in Libya and Syria that he also once
praised. He often blames the United States — and in particular George
W. Bush’s administration — for destabilizing the Middle East with the
2003 Iraq invasion.
But he has also promised to “bomb the
[expletive]” out of the Islamic State in Syria and has signaled his
support for sending a larger contingent of American soldiers into the
Trump’s free-wheeling rhetoric on foreign policy
has presented tangible problems for his campaign, which has struggled to
court respected foreign-policy minds. Many fear that their professional
reputations would be damaged if they joined the Trump operation.
Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment on Trump’s
latest remarks on Hussein. But in a March presidential debate, Trump was
confronted over similar comments by CNN’s Jake Tapper, who pressed him
on his positive remarks about authoritarian governments in China and
Russia. Tapper asked Trump about his assertion in a 1990 Playboy
interview that the Chinese government massacre of students in Tiananmen
Square “shows you the power of strength.”
himself from the suggestion that he had endorsed the crackdown but would
not back down when Tapper noted that “strong” is most often used as a
“That doesn’t mean I was endorsing that. I said that
was a strong, powerful government that put it down with strength. They
kept down the riot, it was a horrible thing,” Trump responded, wrongly
labeling the peaceful demonstration as a riot. “It doesn’t mean at all I
was endorsing it,” Trump responded. “As far as Putin is concerned, I
think Putin has been a very strong leader for Russia. He’s been a lot
stronger than our leader, that I can tell you. I mean, for Russia.”