Throughout its history and especially since World War II, America has been a beacon for human rights and democracy. President Donald Trump is taking our foreign policy in a different direction, one where dictators are welcome.
We can only hope Trump and his top advisers have second thoughts and change course after a suspected nerve gas attack Tuesday in Syria killed at least 50, including children. Even in the bloody six-year civil war with 400,000 dead, this is an atrocity that cannot go unanswered.
Witnesses said the raid in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun was carried out by Syrian jets, which the government denied. But the White House condemned the “reprehensible” act by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, though it also blamed Barack Obama for drawing a “red line” on chemical weapons in 2012 and letting Assad cross it.
There’s no indication, however, that Trump will act against Assad, either. While our European allies have steadfastly demanded his removal, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Tuesday that “regime change” isn’t possible because of “political realities.”
Tuesday’s outrage wouldn’t sound so hollow if Trump hadn’t been colluding with Russia and Vladimir Putin on a Syria policy that focuses on defeating the Islamic State and ignores Assad’s record of brutality.
And on days without horrible, heartbreaking images – like those of the dead Syrian children in a pile, half-naked and staring into space – the Trump White House doesn’t shy at all from giving its blessing to autocrats.
Just Monday, Trump praised Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, who seized power in a 2013 military coup. Obama barred him from the White House, but Trump gave him the honor of a handshake in the Oval Office. “He’s done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation,” Trump said, which would be shocking to opponents who fill his prisons or the loved ones of protestors who have been gunned down in the street by el-Sisi’s security forces.
At his Mar-a-Lago resort on Thursday when Trump meets Chinese President Xi Jinping for the first time, human rights isn’t likely to be near the top of the agenda, either. Trump wants to talk about trade and North Korea, not about China’s crackdown on dissent and its political prisoners.
Then there is Trump’s mysterious relationship with Putin and Russia. He is far less critical of the Putin regime – despite its annexation of Crimea, its aggression in Ukraine and its interference in the U.S presidential election – than our loyal NATO allies, who he says don’t spend enough on defense.
By treating foreign policy like real estate deals, Trump is calculating that fighting “radical Islamic terrorism,” as he insists on calling it, is far more important than democracy or human rights.
But when you embrace strongmen, you’re stained when they revert to their true character and do something horrific. Whatever voters wanted from Trump, they surely didn’t want him to ally America with dictators with the blood of innocents on their hands.