Monday, October 2, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He met with--and gave political cover to--the leader of Thailand's ruling military junta.

Prayuth Chan-ocha came to power in a 2014 military coup that was sharply condemned by the United States and other democracies. He has ruthlessly stamped out dissent, surveilling Thai citizens' political activities through state-sponsored malware, and forcing them to take part in mandatory demonstrations of loyalty to his regime. The Obama administration scaled back U.S. engagement with the regime, citing human rights abuses, and was itself widely criticized when it permitted Prayuth to travel to California for a summit meeting of southeast Asian nations.

Trump's White House invitation lends legitimacy to the Prayuth regime, much as his warm words for and cordial phone call did for the Philippines' Rodrigo Duterte. In fact, a visit to the Trump White House is becoming standard practice for the world's autocrats. Trump has always been open about his admiration for dictators and their "strength," and has publicly praised the leaders of autocratic regimes from Russia to North Korea.

Of course, Trump may genuinely have found a kindred spirit in Prayuth, whom one observer of Thai politics called "a solipsistic leader who sees conspiracy in any criticism and is comfortable making assertions that do not comport with facts."

Why is this a bad thing?

  • It's bad if the President of the United States feels more comfortable with dictators than with allies.
  • There's a difference between realpolitik and simply not caring if the United States is legitimizing dictators.