Trump invites Duterte to the White House for some reason

I assume the White House will figure out a way to raincheck this invite indefinitely. A photo op with Duterte in the Oval Office is too gross and stupid to happen even as a rookie mistake.

President Donald Trump has invited Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte to the White House “to discuss the importance of the United States-Philippines alliance,” according to a White House readout of the leaders’ phone call on Saturday.

“It was a very friendly conversation, in which the two leaders discussed the concerns of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regarding regional security, including the threat posed by North Korea,” said the readout. “They also discussed the fact that the Philippine government is fighting very hard to rid its country of drugs, a scourge that affects many countries throughout the world.”

This is a guy who’s been credibly accused of running his own death squad when he was mayor of Davao, and who admitted in December that he personally killed criminal suspects in his time there. “I’d go around in Davao with a motorcycle, with a big bike around, and I would just patrol the streets, looking for trouble also. I was really looking for a confrontation so I could kill,” he said in December at a presidential press conference. He’s been president for less than a year but the national war on drugs he’s launched — not just on dealers but on users — has already become infamous globally for its viciousness. More than 8,000 have been killed, both by police and “vigilantes.” And Duterte swears he’s just getting started. A Times reporter who photographed some of the murder scenes wrote last year:

I have worked in 60 countries, covered wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and spent much of 2014 living inside West Africa’s Ebola zone, a place gripped by fear and death. What I experienced in the Philippines felt like a new level of ruthlessness: police officers’ summarily shooting anyone suspected of dealing or even using drugs, vigilantes’ taking seriously Mr. Duterte’s call to “slaughter them all.”

He said in October, “You can expect 20,000 or 30,000 more.”

He’s given other estimates much, much higher than that. “Hitler massacred three million Jews,” he said last September at another presidential press conference (he got the number wrong, but bear with him). “Now there is three million, there’s three million drug addicts. There are. I’d be happy to slaughter them.” A bill introduced last summer by his allies would lower the age of criminal responsibility for drug offenses from 15 years old to nine. Last week a Filipino lawyer who represents two former members of the Davao death court filed a complaint in the Hague accusing Duterte of crimes against humanity; the complaint has the backing of the Catholic Church, which has described Duterte’s drug war as a “reign of terror.” That’s the same reign of terror that the White House just whitewashed in its readout as the Philippines “fighting very hard to rid its country of drugs.” And if you believe Duterte, that’s no surprise: Supposedly, in their first phone call last December, Trump specifically wished him well with the drug campaign and commended him for “doing it as a sovereign nation, the right way.”

It’s disgraceful, and if Trump doesn’t realize that, hopefully someone close to him (probably Jared and Ivanka) will realize it in time to make sure that the Duterte summit never happens. This is essentially a replay of his bizarre insistence on congratulating Erdogan for his successful dictatorial power grab in the Turkish referendum a few weeks ago. You can defend cordial relations with a Duterte-led Philippines the same way you can defend cordial relations with an Erdogan-led Turkey: The U.S. has important strategic interests in their respective regions that would be jeopardized if the relationship turned hostile (Duterte has already threatened as much), although the Philippines is more valuable as an ally against China than against North Korea, which is what occasioned yesterday’s phone call. Cordiality doesn’t require endorsement of an ally’s worst instincts, though, and yet here Trump is offering an endorsement for the second time in less than two weeks. Why? Is there any explanation apart from sincere admiration for the strongman’s methods?

Here’s Reince Priebus trying to justify the Duterte invite on grounds that it’ll help against North Korea, without specifying precisely how.

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