– – – Tearline – – – May 4, 2017

In this week’s Tearline: Trump befriends authoritarian leaders around the globe, Tillerson misses meetings, and France gets ready to go to the polls.

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Tearline noun | ‘ter ï lin
The portions of an intelligence report that provide the substance of a more highly classified or controlled report without identifying sensitive sources, methods, or other operational information.

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What was that?!

President Donald Trump invited the president of the Philippines—Rodrigo Duterte—for a visit to Washington. That’s the same President Duterte who has led a campaign against alleged drug pushers and users that has killed an estimated 7,000 people and who bragged about personally killing people when he was a mayor. Even though the Philippines is an important U.S. ally and a democracy, and even though Duterte was freely and fairly elected, this is an egregious embrace by Trump of an allied leader widely accused of massive human rights violations. Then again, President Trump doesn’t seem to care much about democratic norms in his country, either. Duterte’s response to the invite? He’s not sure he’ll be able to make it—he might be tied up. #Burn. But maybe the White House’s theme for this week is embracing strongmen. You might have missed that President Trump extended an invitation to the leader of Thailand to visit the White House—because one dictator isn’t enough. Former Gen. and current Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha overthrew Thailand’s democratically elected government in 2014. For some thoughts on how to manage the U.S.-Philippines alliance in the age of Trump and Duterte—and other unsavory alliance relationships—read this.

What’s missing?

A meeting for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, that’s what. According to reporting by Foreign Policy, Tillerson invited Moussa Faki to Washington for a meeting, but then canceled on him last minute without an excuse, leaving Faki understandably angry. Instead of dedicating so much time to dictators and giving them the prestige of an Oval Office visit, the Trump administration should focus on expanding its outreach to key partners around the world—such as Africa, where there has been barely, if any, high-level engagement to date.    

What’s on deck in the world for next week

A couple of elections. May 7 is the second and final round of the French presidential elections, with centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron facing off against far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. While polls indicate a strong lead for Macron, many are endowing this race with the same populist vs. establishment themes seen in Brexit and the 2016 U.S. election. In South Korea, voters go to the polls May 9 to choose a new president after the former president was impeached in a corruption scandal. The leading candidate is from an opposing party and, if elected, is likely to take a different approach to North Korea than the previous government, potentially complicating President Trump’s North Korea strategy—though Trump is doing a pretty good job complicating his own efforts by flip-flopping regularly and telling South Korea to pay for the $1 billion Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system.

Better ideas

President Trump has already made clear that he views the U.S. military as the primary tool of advancing U.S. interests abroad. But as CAP colleagues Peter Juul and Ken Gude point out, this is a disastrous approach. With Trump unlikely to change course, it’s up to Congress to force his hand by using the power of the purse, oversight capacity, and its constitutional role in regulating the administration’s use of force.

Quote of the week

“If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him, I would absolutely, I would be honored to do it,” Trump said in an interview with Bloomberg. That was President Trump’s comment on his willingness to meet with the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, coming just weeks after the administration was threatening to take unilateral military action against North Korea. The policy whiplash is intense. Or maybe the Trump administration just changed their attitudes about Kim Jong Un. After all, as White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said of the North Korean leader, “He’s obviously managed to lead his country forward.”

Read of the week

So in some bizarro world—which we would imagine doesn’t look much different than the last 100 days—if President Trump actually did meet with Kim Jong Un, what would it look like? Associated Press journalist Ted Anthony imagines that meeting in this piece that’s well worth reading.

Weekly Trump-Russia reminder

Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke this week. Curious if they spoke about Trump’s electoral victory …

105 days still violating the Constitution

President Trump has been violating the Constitution’s prohibitionagainst corruption by foreign governments for 105 days, because his companies are receiving payments from foreign governments. And speaking of Duterte’s invitation to come to the White House, interesting fact that the Trump Organization has investments in the Philippines

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Michael Fuchs

Senior Fellow

Stefanie Merchant

Special Assistant