The Autocrats

Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil

President Jair Bolsonaro has advocated torture, and has praised Philippine President Duterte’s extrajudicial drug war killings.  His term has been marked by a wide range of human rights abuses.  He has pardoned police convicted for illegal use of force, and undermined attempts to end torture in the nation’s prisons.

He has harassed independent media and restricted access to government information.  Deforestation of the Amazon has gone up more than 80% under Bolsonaro, following the gutting of environmental enforcement budgets.  During his campaign, Bolsonaro praised the days of Brazil’s military dictatorship.  Extrajudicial killings in Brazil have risen during his term.

Trump invited Bolsonaro to the White House in 2019, and praised Bolsonaro effusively, saying he was “honored” by comparisons of Bolsonaro’s presidential campaign to him.  He praised Bolsonaro’s response to last year’s massive Amazon fires, while other were blaming Bolsonaro for allowing fires to rage so the forests could be logged.  Bolsonaro has endorsed Trump’s reelection.


Rodrigo Duterte, Philippines

President Rodrigo Duterte campaigned on the promise to kill hundreds of thousands of drug law violators.  A massive extrajudicial killing campaign commenced immediately on his taking office in 2016, with human rights organizations estimated the number of victims as at least 30,000.  His term has also been marked by attacks on media outlets and contrived legal cases against opposition leaders.

Shortly after being elected, Duterte called President Barack Obama a “son of a whore,” following Obama’s criticism of Duterte’s drug war killings, prompting the White House to cancel a planned meeting between the two leaders.  In 2017 Trump met with Duterte at the ASEAN Summit, appearing hand-in-hand with Duterte at the summit’s opening.

Trump has praised Duterte’s drug war two times, and expressed a desire to host him in the White House.  The Manila Trump Tower figured prominently in the recent New York Times story on Trump’s taxes, and Duterte appointed the businessman who made the Trump Tower deal a special envoy to the US.


Recep Tayyip ErdoÄŸan, Turkey

In 2019, Trump abruptly ordered the withdrawal of US troops from Syria’s border from Turkey, paving the way for Turkish troops to invade.  The move altered years of US policy, and blindsided US defense officials.  Turkey’s subsequent invasion and bombing displaced 200,000 Kurds.  Kurdish forces fought for the US in Iraq, and relied on US protection.

In 2017, Erdogan bodyguards in Washington, DC beat Kurdish protesters in Sheridan Circle near the Turkish Embassy.  The US government waited for a month before taking legal action, only filing charges against two of them after the House of Representatives passed a resolution calling for charges.  The charges were dropped a short time later, in advance of a high-level meeting between Erdoğan and then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

President Erdoğan has made use of Islamism to move Turkey in an authoritarian direction.  His time in office has been marked by a one-man rule approach including the jailing of critics, state control over media outlets, and the abolishing or neutralizing of other institutions of power in the country.

Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops is reported to have been made “instinctively” following a phone call with Erdogan.  There are two adjoining Trump Towers in the Şişli district of Istanbul, one business and residential.


Kim Jong-un, North Korea

North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un leads a cult-of-personality regime that is one of the world’s most repressive regimes.  His time in office has been marked by purges, assassinations of family members and other potential rivals, and and expansion of the poverty-stricken nation’s nuclear weapons program.

Trump has touted a “good relationship” with Kim, and hoped that Kim would end the North Korean nuclear weapons program because of the relationship.  He has held two direct meetings with Kim, that were criticized by the foreign policy establishment as lacking preparation or strategy.

Domestically these meetings were propaganda coups for the Kim government, whose state-owned media outlets ran footage of them for days.  Kim however, failed to provide meaningful concessions, only closing a reactor that was already past its useful lifespan.  Trump continues to talk about the good relationship he enjoys with the brutal dictator.


Viktor Orban, Hungary

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is broadly condemned as having destroyed Hungary’s democracy, destroying the free press and attacking civil society and academia.  Trump has praised Orban on multiple occasions, and in 2019 invited him to the White House, breaking with a long US practice of ostracizing him.  Trump claimed that Orban is “respected all over Europe,” adding “like me, [he’s] a little bit controversial.”

Orban, with Putin worked to undermine the Ukrainian government’s standing with Trump. Orban’s efforts to paint the government as hopelessly corrupt coincided with Trump’s attempts to pressure Ukraine into manufacturing legal controversies involving then-prospective presidential candidate Joe Biden and his family.


Vladimir Putin, Russia

President Putin’s manipulations of Donald Trump are as uncountable as his authoritarian outrages.  The authoritarian leader destroyed Russia’s fledgling democracy, has assassinated critics and other opponents, and controls Russian media.

President Trump has engaged in denialism over 2016 and continuing Kremlin interference in US elections, despite US and foreign intelligence agencies concluding the Kremlin did interfere and did so to benefit Trump.  Trump has ignored or denied intelligence findings that Russia paid bounties to the Taliban for killing US soldiers in Afghanistan.  Trump has stayed quiet about the poisoning of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, despite other parts of his administration condemning the poisoning.

While Trump has denied taking Russian money for his businesses, Donald Trump Jr. has said Russian money plays a disproportionate role for them.


Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as “MBS,” was initially viewed as a social reformer after taking power.  But MBS drew widespread international condemnation in 2018 following the murder of Saudi-born US resident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, in the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul.

In an interview with Bob Woodward for the book Rage, Trump reportedly bragged about protecting bin Salman from Congressional scrutiny.  Trump told Woodward he didn’t believe MBS had ordered the assassination of Khashoggi, despite conclusions by US and foreign intelligence agencies that he had.  Shortly after the murder, Trump authorized $8 billion in US arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, vetoing three Congressional resolutions to block the sale, and another that would have blocked continuing US support to the much-criticized Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

MBS cultivated a relationship with Trump son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, and bragged that he had Kushner “in his pocket.”  Staffers at the US Embassy in Riyadh have raised concerns over being kept in the dark about details of Kushner’s meetings with members of the Saudi royal court.  The Saudi government has been paying money to Trump hotels since he took office.


Mohammed bin Zayed, United Arab Emirates

In June 2017, the United Emirates under Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ), with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt imposed a blockade on the country of Qatar.  The Trump administration, initially reported to be divided about the matter, decided to support the blockade, departing from long-running US policy toward Qatar, a military and economic ally of the US.

The blockade followed an April meeting between the Kushner family business and Qatar’s Minister of Finance, in which Qatar declined to provided financing to rescue the Kushner family’s struggling 666 5th Avenue office building in New York.

The UAE under MBZ has grown increasing authoritarian, as the government increases its hostility toward criticism and restricts digital freedoms.  British PhD student Matthew Hedges was detained for six months over accusations of spying, much of the time in solitary confinement and suffering other bad living conditions.

Trump has pursued business opportunities in the UAE since 2005, and a private real estate conglomerate in 2013 made a deal to build a $6 billion Trump-branded golf club. A second club is in development. The UAE was exempted from the Trump administration’s infamous travel ban targeting most Muslim countries.

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