Marine Le Pen, for example, has become a poster child for the modern European far right after leading the French National Front to unprecedented success over the past few years. Many see her as the most obvious European counterpart for Trump. And yet, despite their perceived kinship, Le Pen has personally criticized Trump’s proposal to ban almost all Muslims from entering the United States.
“Seriously, have you ever heard me say something like that?” Le Pen said during one television interview, according to the New York Times. “I defend all the French people in France, regardless of their origin, regardless of their religion.”
It is remarkable when, as my colleague Marc Thiessen puts it, “The Republican front-runner’s position on Muslim immigration is too radical for even leader of the French National Front, who compares Muslim immigration to the Nazi occupation of France.”
It also puts in context the right-wing anti-immigrant set (e.g., Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), NumbersUSA, certain talk radio hosts), which does not follow in the tradition of American conservatism or free-market capitalism, but of reactionary European politics. The latter until now has been rejected by the United States’ national parties.
Donald Trump need not worry, however, about failing to get the nod from Le Pen, who only aspires to be her country’s president. Trump did “better”: getting rave reviews from former KGB officer and corrupt Russian President Vladimir Putin. “He’s a very lively man, talented without doubt,” the Post quotes Putin as saying about Trump. “He’s saying he wants to go to another level of relations — closer, deeper relations with Russia. How can we not welcome that? Of course we welcome that.” Indeed, Trump has waxed lyrical about Russia’s autocratic president, indicating Trump has little interest in Ukraine and is willing to let Russia take care of Syria (or the Islamic State, which Trump mistakenly thinks is targeted by Russia). (One can only imagine the next endorsement — Bashar al-Assad? Raúl Castro?)
No doubt Putin would appreciate another autocrat, immune to restraints on government, doggedly nationalistic, indifferent to political dissidents and human rights advocates and willing to cede to him Syria. For the people of Ukraine, the Baltic States and the rest of Europe, this might seem sort of chilling, but then President Obama is teaching them never to rely on the United States.
It is odd that many of the same conservatives who have reamed Obama for refusing to stand up to the United States’ foes and who recite Ronald Reagan’s “shining city upon a hill” speech by heart now are willing to support as a presidential candidate someone who does not even perceive aggressive dictators as foes. “Their” candidate is the one who would blithely dismiss the interests of dissidents, democracy advocates, religious minorities and weak democratic allies. That is what one must do to get along with Putin, you see.
The fetish with embracing dictators is both morally offensive and geopolitically foolish, and it is not only a Trump phenomenon. As Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute notes, it has become “voguish to suggest that the world would be a better place with Muammar Qadhafi, Hosni Mubarak, Bashar al Assad and Saddam Hussein back on their thrones.” That, of course, is a recipe, she points out, for constant instability, repression, revolt and extremism. (“Shortcuts aren’t effective. Dictators can’t forever oppress their people.”)
If we throw our lot in with dictators, we also discard an arrow in our foreign policy quiver, namely support for democratic movements and religious groups that rise up against their oppressors (who are often our enemies). Do the autocrat-huggers think we should not have supported the Green Revolution against the mullahs?
And at some point, after the dictators have gorged on neighbors and devoured their citizens, we inevitably will be forced to act. (That is one lesson of the Obama years.) By then — as we’ve seen with Putin — we have allowed a monster to evolve. We go looking for allies, but they are weak or nonexistent. We look for an inspiring message to rally our side, but we’ve shredded our moral authority.
Those who embrace dictators often misstate history, suggesting their political opponents have taken it upon themselves to throw the dictators out, when it is usually the case that the dictators’ oppression already had sparked an uprising (e.g., Egypt, Syria, Iran, Libya). If we do nothing, that is still acting — as we did in lending a hand to the mullahs by relative muteness in June 2009. If we act, that has consequences as well — although democracy scorners seem to think the only action we can take is military. Only the faux realists on the left like Obama or the right-wing bullies imagine one can be neutral when it comes to the actions of thugs such as Putin. The United States is either enabling them or it is restricting the world’s aggressors.
Voters should reject candidates who draw the admiration of tyrants, who scorn the United States’ traditional role in the world, who use “America First” as if their political rivals are not putting America’s interests first (the old divided-loyalty canard), and who are even more outspoken than the infamous National Front in spreading hatred of immigrants.