This is a stunning comment, given that Trump has accused China of currency manipulation, interference in the 2018 midterm election, deliberately harming U.S. farmers and military overreach in the South China Sea.
But it was especially stunning because it’s a U.S. president effectively favorably comparing a foreign country — one that even he has regarded as hostile — to members of his own government. Trump’s point was narrowly about being “honorable,” but that’s still an extraordinary statement. And in American politics, there’s an age-old protocol that says politics is supposed to stop at the water’s edge.
All that said, it’s hardly the first time this has happened. Trump has made a habit of siding with foreign powers over the U.S. government when it has suited him. Here’s a recap.
Putin is a stronger leader than Obama
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump caused a stir by saying he thought that Russian President Vladimir Putin was a stronger leader than President Barack Obama.
"I think he has been a lot stronger than our leader — that I can tell you,” Trump said.
He clarified that he was talking only about strength and wasn’t “endorsing” Putin: " ‘Strong’ doesn’t mean ‘good.’ Putin is a strong leader, absolutely. I could name many strong leaders. I could name very many very weak leaders. But he is a strong leader. Now, I don’t say that in a good way or a bad way. I say it as a fact.”
But as with China and honor, he was chopping down Democrats on a very important characteristic (one that Trump values highly!) while building up an often-hostile foreign country.
Believing Putin over his intelligence community
Trump has made it abundantly clear that he harbors doubts about the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. campaign and that it did so to help him. Occasionally, he has suggested that he believes Putin’s denials rather than U.S. intelligence.
“Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that,' " Trump said. “And I believe — I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it. . . . I think he is very insulted by it.”
Trump added later: “I believe that he feels that he and Russia did not meddle in the election."
Trump then clarified, “As to whether I believe it or not, I am with our agencies, especially as currently constituted with the leadership.” But this is trying to have it both ways. The intelligence community says that not only did Russia interfere, but that Putin ordered it. If Trump believes Putin’s denials, he can’t also believe the intelligence community.
Doubting the intel community (again) on Saudi Arabia and Khashoggi
Trump has also publicly doubted another of his own intelligence community’s high-profile findings in the service of siding with another foreign country: Saudi Arabia.
After the intelligence community concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi, Trump publicly cast doubt not just on the crown prince’s involvement but even his knowledge of the death.
“Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event — maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” Trump said.
Trump added: “I hate the coverup. And I will tell you this: The crown prince hates it more than I do. And they have vehemently deny it."
Trump used this doubt-casting to argue that there should be little retaliation for the Saudis killing Khashoggi — something for which even Senate Republicans unanimously rebuked him.
The Soviet Union was right to invade Afghanistan
In the course of a bizarre history lesson Trump offered recently about the Soviet Union’s war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, he concluded that the Soviets were right to have invaded.
“The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia,” Trump said, falsely. “They were right to be there. The problem is, it was a tough fight.”
But siding with the Soviets' decision to be in Afghanistan inherently means siding against the Reagan administration and the United States. That’s because the United States aided opposition forces in the name of beating back communism in what became a proxy fight in the Cold War.
Taking Turkey’s advice over the military’s on Syria withdrawal
When Trump surprised the world by announcing an immediate withdrawal from Syria a month ago, he did so after a call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and despite almost universal opposition from U.S. military leaders and his own national security team. He even reportedly surprised Erdogan with his eagerness to comply with the Turkish leader’s advice.
The Islamic State, according to Trump himself, had been defeated, Erdogan said. Turkey’s military was strong and could take on any remaining militant pockets. Why did some 2,000 U.S. troops still need to be there?“You know what? It’s yours,” Trump said of Syria. “I’m leaving.”
Bloomberg News reported that “Trump shocked even those in his inner circle by yielding to a suggestion from Erdogan to reverse the Pentagon’s Syrian strategy.”
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis soon resigned over the matter, as did Brett McGurk, the U.S. envoy in the fight against the Islamic State (also known as ISIS). Yet in recent days, Trump and his administration have signaled a far-less-immediate withdrawal — even saying it won’t happen until the Islamic State is “gone.”