Donald Trump and the world’s dictators

Hillary Clinton is a deeply flawed, even disastrous candidate, but Donald Trump seems intent on burning the Republicans' house down and NATO with it.


WASHINGTON, Aug. 2, 2016 — Donald Trump troubles some Republicans in his embrace of dictators and his apparent willingness to abandon our commitments to our NATO allies. That flies in the face of decades of Republican support for national defense and America’s leadership role in the world as a force for good.

Trump has defended Saddam Hussein not as a good man or a good leader, but as a killer of terrorists, and therefore a force for stability. The conservative journal National Review offered this assessment:

In truth, Saddam was a founder and shelterer of terrorists. Abu Nidal was sheltered in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. So was Abu Abbas (the chief terrorist in the Achille Lauro hijacking). So was Zarqawi, of Al-Qaeda. So was at least one of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers. And so on. A variety of terror training camps operated under Saddam’s gaze. And he paid the families of Palestinian suicide bombers $10,000—until he was feeling more generous and upped the ante to $25,000 … Saddam supported terrorists for about as long as Trump supported Hillary Clinton and other liberal Democrats.

Of particular concern is Trump’s admiration for Vladimir Putin, even encouraging him to interfere in our electoral process by sharing his opponent’s emails. Trump has been involved in business in Putin’s Russia. He has invested with oligarchs in Russia and Azerbaijan, staged a Miss Universe contest in Russia and angled to attract Russian money to his projects in North America.

Colorado Gazette editorial: Trump’s Rocky Mountain High

He has also surrounded himself with people with deep ties to the corrupt world of Russian business. He brought in a foreign policy aide, Carter Page, who has ties to Russian companies such as Gazprom and who publicly endorsed the Russian invasion of Ukraine. His campaign manager, Paul Manafort, worked for many years in Ukraine on behalf of Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian president ousted in 2014.

On July 31, Trump offered a confused explanation of his views of the 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia and its continued efforts to undermine Ukraine’s control of other parts of the country. He amplified his earlier suggestion that, if elected president, he might recognize Russia’s claim and end sanctions.

In an interview with George Stephanopoulous on “This Week,” Trump said that if he were president, Putin would not send his forces into Ukraine.

Trump: He’s not going into Ukraine, O.K., just so you understand. He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down. You can put it down. You can take it anywhere you want.

Stephanopolous: Well, he’s already there, isn’t he?

Republicans in Congress have long pressed for more assistance to Ukraine, including lethal aid, to push back against Putin. But all references to giving lethal aid to the Ukrainian government were kept out of the Republican platform at Trump’s urging. In early July, a delegate offered a platform amendment to support lethal aid to Ukraine.

Diana Denman of Texas, a delegate for Sen. Ted Cruz, said in an interview that she had pushed for inclusion of the language. But she said her amendment was never voted on because two men who were observing the panel’s deliberations moved to table the amendment.

“They openly said they were hired by the Trump campaign and worked for Mr. Trump,” said Denman.

The Washington Post reported:

Inside the meeting, Diana Denman, a platform committee member from Texas who was a Ted Cruz supporter, proposed a platform amendment that would call for maintaining or increasing sanctions against Russia, increasing aid for Ukraine and “providing lethal defensive weapons” to the Ukrainian military.

“Today, the post-Cold War ideal of a ‘Europe whole and free’ is being severely tested by Russia’s ongoing military aggression in Ukraine,” the amendment read. “The Ukrainian people deserve our admiration and support in their struggle.”

Trump staffers in the room, who are not delegates but are there to oversee the process, intervened. By working with pro-Trump delegates, they were able to get the issue tabled while they devised a method to roll back the language.

In a conversation with New York Times journalists, Trump indicated that under his presidency, the U.S. might not honor its NATO obligations if Russia decided to invade its Baltic neighbors.

Even if Trump never becomes president, Putin may have already achieved two important Russian foreign policy goals: to weaken the moral influence of the U.S. by undermining its reputation as a stable democracy and to reduce its power by wrecking its relationship with its allies.

Indeed, Trump has started to echo arguments identical to those heard on Russian television, ranging from doubts about the sovereignty of Ukraine to doubts about U.S. leadership of the democratic world.

To defend Trump, some Republicans are turning their backs on principles they have embraced their entire careers. Newt Gingrich, who once pushed for an expansion of NATO, made light of Trump’s comments, dismissing Estonia as “some place which is in the suburbs of St. Petersburg.”

Democratic talking points: Political fiction

In reality, “My party, right or wrong,” is a shallow philosophy indeed if your party has turned its back on its own traditional principles. Accordingly to Daily Mail, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe endorsed Trump, saying that when Trump is elected, Americans would regret their opposition to his brutal regime.

Two Democratic politicians—Congressman Adam Schiff, from California, and Sen. Chris Coons, from Delaware—have revealed a bizarre meeting with the Zimbabwean head of state during a recent trip with a delegation examining wildlife conservation issues.

Mr. Schiff explained the strange turn of events that confronted them during a meeting with Mr. Mugabe which he was unaware they had even requested.

Mr. Coons said he had been to 24 countries in Africa but never had a more bizarre meeting with a head of state.

“It was like having Thanksgiving with a crazy uncle you hadn’t seen in years where he says: ‘Why aren’t we friends?'” he said, “‘How did we come unglued? Why is your President so uninterested in talking to me?'”

The party of Ronald Reagan understood the evils of Communism and won the Cold War. It embraced and supported NATO and sought to spread American democratic values around the world. It embraced American leadership.

Reagan would be saddened by today’s Republican Party. Lou Cannon, who covered the 1980 campaign and the Reagan presidency and is the author of “President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetiime,” wrote:

Ronald Reagan had an inbred distaste for the politics of derogation that have become a Trump hallmark. Reagan would have been appalled by Trump’s description of opponents as ‘Lying Ted’ or ‘Crooked Hillary.’ … Reagan was a comfortable and self-secure politician. He had a self-deprecating sense of humor, believed in civil discourse, possessed a generous spirit and realized that “ompromise” is not a dirty word.

Many Republicans lament the loss of Reagan’s Republican Party. George Weigel, a leading Catholic conservative, says,

The Republican Party has left me by embracing Donald Trump, a man utterly unfit by experience, intellect or character to be president of the United States.

Michael Gerson, who was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush, said,

It Is perhaps to Trump’s credit that in Cleveland he did not pretend to beliefs he does not possess. But his convention speech was almost entirely secular. Faith-based supporters were mentioned only as another interest group at the long trough of his promises. Larger religious themes that often inform American political rhetoric—human dignity, social justice, the possibility of redemption—were absent.

Trump’s abandonment of traditional Republican values has given the Democrats a chance to present themselves as the party of country, faith, character and morality. Jeffrey Engel, director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University, argues this:

Fundamentally striking was (at the party conventions) the Democrats were Republicans. Trump’s radical break with the Republican Party has allowed Democrats to capture tropes and values they’d long been excluded from employing. Their message was that they are the party of values, the party of loyalty and patriotism, the party of military respect, the party of justice and freedom and, most striking of all, the party of God. All of these used to be Republican tropes with Democrats long arguing that they were the better managers, while Republicans seized the moral high ground.

In the end, Hillary Clinton is a deeply flawed candidate. But the Republicans’ house is on fire. Unless someone can put this fire out the future of the party is in peril.

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Allan C. Brownfeld
Received B.A. from the College of William and Mary, J.D. from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law of the College of William and Mary, and M.A. from the University of Maryland. Served as a member of the faculties of St. Stephen's Episcopal School, Alexandria, Virginia and the University College of the University of Maryland. The recipient of a Wall Street Journal Foundation Award, he has written for such newspapers as The Houston Press, The Washington Evening Star, The Richmond Times Dispatch, and The Cincinnati Enquirer. His column appeared for many years in Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. His articles have appeared in The Yale Review, The Texas Quarterly, Orbis, Modern Age, The Michigan Quarterly, The Commonweal and The Christian Century. His essays have been reprinted in a number of text books for university courses in Government and Politics. For many years, his column appeared several times a week in papers such as The Washington Times, The Phoenix Gazette and the Orange County Register. He served as a member of the staff of the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, as Assistant to the research director of the House Republican Conference and as a consultant to members of the U.S. Congress and to the Vice President. He is the author of five books and currently serves as Contributing Editor of The St. Croix Review, Associate Editor of The Lincoln Review and editor of Issues.