The US’s love affair with cruel despots

The chattering classes are all of a doo-dah and reaching for their smelling salts. The reason? Donald Trump’s friendliness with leaders like Egypt’s el Sisi, Turkey’s Erdogan, and the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte, inviting them to the US for state visits despite their appalling human rights records. But, as usual, this is being portrayed as exceptional behavior, rather than a continuation of long-standing US policy to support and coddle the worst leaders as long as they serve US interests.

That cozying up to human rights abusers is an utterly bipartisan affair is best exemplified by war criminal Henry Kissinger but something that both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton did. The extent of that bipartisan consensus can be seen with Jimmy Carter, the president most closely identified with standing up for human rights. There is no question that Carter has been one of the better ex-presidents, not excessively cashing in on his post presidency by giving highly lucrative speeches to big banks and other fat cats like the Clintons, the Bushes, Ronald Reagan, and Gerald Ford did and Obama is doing now.

But he too while president cozied up to despots, as Glenn Greenwald reminds us.

In 1977, Jimmy Carter attended a State Dinner in Tehran for the Shah of Iran, the savage U.S.-supported despot that ruled that country for decades after the CIA overthrew its democratically elected leader. It took place shortly after Carter hosted the Shah at the White House. The U.S. President hailed the Iranian tyrant with a long toast, that began this way:

THE PRESIDENT. Your Majesties and distinguished leaders of Iran from all walks of life:
I would like to say just a few words tonight in appreciation for your hospitality and the delightful evening that we’ve already experienced with you. Some have asked why we came to Iran so close behind the delightful visit that we received from the Shah and Empress Farah just a month or so ago. After they left our country, I asked my wife, “With whom would you like to spend New Year’s Eve?” And she said, “Above all others, I think, with the Shah and Empress Farah.” So we arranged the trip accordingly and came to be with you.

As Carter spoke, his praise for the homicidal Iranian despot became more flowery and obsequious: “Iran, because of the great leadership of the Shah, is an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world. This is a great tribute to you, Your Majesty, and to your leadership and to the respect and the admiration and love which your people give to you.” Two years later, those same people whom Carter claimed revered the Shah overthrew him and, to this day, loathe the U.S. because of the decades of support and praise they heaped on their dictator.

We have to remember that Carter was saying all this at the very end of the Shah’s reign when his abuses were widely known and the activities of his secret police Savak were notorious. But that is not all.

In February, the New York Times editorial page – writing under the phrase used by Jeane Kirkpatrick to demonize 1984 Democrats as unpatriotic: “Blame America First” – attacked Trump with this propagandistic garbage: “Since taking office, Mr. Trump has shown little support for America’s traditional roles as a champion of universal values like freedom of the press and tolerance.” Imagine what a shock it would be to the people of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Chile, Bahrain, Iran, Argentina, Brazil and the countless other countries which lived under a U.S.-supported dictator to hear about “America’s traditional roles as a champion of universal values like freedom of the press and tolerance.”

Perhaps the worst example yet came yesterday in a Washington Post article by its White House Bureau Chief Philip Rucker, who made this claim: “Every American president since at least the 1970s has used his office to champion human rights and democratic values around the world.” He added: “In an undeniable shift in American foreign policy, Trump is cultivating authoritarian leaders.”

Cultivating authoritarian leaders is everything except a “shift in American foreign policy.” Nonetheless, this propagandistic lie has now become commonplace among über-patriotic journalists eager to tell the world that the U.S., before Trump, has been devoted to liberating the oppressed peoples of the world from tyranny.

So why the outrage over Trump’s actions?

What’s really infuriating those attacking Trump for doing what the U.S. government has been doing for decades – supporting and praising heinous tyrants – is that he’s denying them the ability to maintain the myths they desperately tell themselves about their own country.

Once that veneer is removed, once that fairy tale is dispensed with, then the harsh reality stands nakedly exposed: what they are defending is nothing more than the illegitimate and arbitrary exercise of imperial power.

They are furious that Trump isn’t as effective or as willing to pretend that he’s not doing this. That means they can no longer pretend that the violence, the wars, the coercion, the interference, the dictator-support that they routinely condone has a moral purpose to it.

Trump is just continuing a long-standing bipartisan tradition. Where Trump has deviated from the consensus is that he does not seem to realize that the US only talks loudly about human rights so that it can be used it as a weapon to destabilize and overthrow leaders whom it dislikes or who have become a liability to them. But with those abusers whom it likes, you have to ignore their abuses, not say much about them publicly, and quietly provide aid and military support for their repressive practices behind the scenes. Inviting them to the White House is to make the unsavory relationship too obvious. And this is what is concerning the establishment media.

The real exceptionalism in US policy is the remarkable ability of the ruling classes to lie to the people about what they really do and of the mainstream media to prop up the façade that human rights is a key driver of foreign policy.


  1. says

    If Donald wasn’t so dangerous to so many people, I would have been laughing at the irony of US outrage over Russia’s possible interference in their election.

  2. says

    Tabby Lavalamp@#1:
    Yeah. Meanwhile, the South Koreans have rather pointedly asked the US not to interfere in their democracy during the upcoming election. Which, of course, has already been done by rushing to plant the THAAD missile system before the election, presenting a new regime with a fait accompli.

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