First, in a string of reckless disclosures, he told Duterte regarding North Korea, “We have two submarines — the best in the world. We have two nuclear submarines, not that we want to use them at all.” BuzzFeed reports, “Pentagon officials are in shock after the release of a transcript of a call between President Donald Trump and his Philippines counterpart revealed that the US military had moved two nuclear submarines towards North Korea. We never talk about subs!” three officials told BuzzFeed News, referring to the military’s belief that keeping submarines’ movements secret is key to their mission.” Whether it is giving away Israeli intelligence to the Russians or revealing sub locations to the virulently anti-American Duterte, Trump seems incapable of performing the most basic function of a commander in chief — don’t help the enemy. (This is a perfect example of actions that may be perfectly legal but nevertheless be impeachable evidence that the president is, in the words of the Federalist Papers, engaged in “the abuse or violation of some public trust.”)
As horrifying as his recklessness with national security (this was the guy who claimed Hillary Clinton’s home email server rendered her unfit for office) were Trump’s opening remarks to Duterte: “I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem. Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call to tell you that.” He continued, “I understand that and I think we had a previous president that did not understand that, but I understand that and we have spoken about this before.”
In its human rights report issued earlier this year, Trump’s own State Department found:
Since July police and unknown vigilantes have killed more than 6,000 suspected drug dealers and users as the government pursued a policy aimed at eliminating illegal drug activity in the country by the end of the year. Extrajudicial killings have been the chief human rights concern in the country for many years and they increased sharply over the past year. The PNP [Philippine National Police] reported 2,155 suspects killed during police antidrug operations between July 1 and December 26 and approximately 4,000 more allegedly drug-related killings by unknown persons during that period. The law requires an internal PNP investigation of all injuries and deaths resulting from police operations. As of September, 709 investigations were opened into deaths resulting from PNP operations. As of December 26, charges had been filed in approximately 800 of the killings by unknown persons. September hearings in the senate on the rise in killings were postponed after three days. The most significant human rights problems were killings allegedly undertaken by vigilantes, security forces, and insurgents; cases of apparent governmental disregard for human rights and due process; and a weak and overburdened criminal justice system notable for slow court procedures, weak prosecutions, and poor cooperation between police and investigators.
Likewise, the McCain Institute, a human rights advocacy organization, recently published a report confirming that “with the election of President Rodrigo Duterte in May 2016 and his call for a ‘war on drugs,’ the stunning increase in the number of people killed by the Philippines National Police and unidentified gunmen has raised serious questions about the country’s commitment to human rights and the rule of law. According to a March 1, 2017 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) entitled ‘License to Kill,’ over 7,000 people have been killed as part of this anti-drug campaign. While Duterte has indicated his campaign is targeted at ‘drug lords’ and ‘drug users,’ HRW found that many of those killed are the urban poor living in impoverished areas, and that in some cases evidence is being planted after the suspects are killed. … Further, opponents of Duterte’s campaign are being harassed and intimidated.”
Far from conducting a prudent and effective war on drugs, Duterte has overseen grotesque and indiscriminate killings. Trump’s un-American cheerleading for gross human violations once again evidences his willful ignorance and/or moral nihilism. “We all know Trump doesn’t care about human rights but what was truly shocking about this call is that the very first thing he said was to praise Duterte’s murderous campaign and criticize President Obama for not doing so,” says the Brookings Institution’s Thomas Wright. “It is one thing to turn a blind eye. It is quite another to be a cheerleader for wrongdoing. One has to wonder what’s next. Will he offer assistance to foreign leaders in repressing their own people?”
There is no question that integrating human rights with other more prosaic foreign policy concerns can be difficult. But never before have we had a president and secretary of state who have virtually no concern for human rights, and indeed encourage human rights violations and human rights violators. “The goal of human rights policy is human rights improvements, not purity,” observes former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams in a must-read analysis of the difficult balance most presidents encounter. “But these formulations do not sufficiently stress that along with invitations, phone calls and private pressure there must be some visible reaction to Duterte’s excesses. Otherwise, Filipinos will logically conclude that we are embracing him uncritically. They will not see the private messages and pressure, nor, obviously, will Duterte talk about them. They need to know that we condemn the violence and lawlessness, and will always talk to Duterte about these abuses when we see him. We need to be seen wincing.”
The generous explanation is that the Trump administration is doing a poor job of balancing competing concerns. (“The Trump administration and the president himself appear to be wrestling with human rights policy and so far, human rights policy is losing. The administration’s key policymakers are paying too much attention to the arguments and assurances of rulers and too little to their opponents … and American officials appear to be adopting a transactional approach to foreign policy that systematically underweights the value of America’s association with and support for liberty.”) Frankly, there is ample evidence that the Trump team does not bother to balance. In public and in private, Trump does not condemn violence and lawlessness; he applauds both, fawns overs autocrats and has done so whether the bad actor rules Egypt, Russia, China, the Philippines or Saudi Arabia. In that regard, he is the most un-American and inhumane president in U.S. history.