President Trump isn’t just empowering dictators by criticizing the mainstream press, he’s also doing so by abandoning the promotion of human rights overseas. That’s the thrust of Friday’s front-page New York Times story by Cairo bureau chief Declan Walsh, “In Unquestioning U.S. Embrace, Autocrats Steamroll Opposition.” The text box: “A president’s silence on abuses by allies emboldens despots in Egypt and elsewhere.” But where was this concern for human rights when Republicans criticized Iran this year, or Russia or Egypt previously:
When it comes to securing a second term in power, Egypt’s president is leaving little to chance.
Potential rivals in the March election have been sidelined, jailed or threatened with prosecution. The news media is largely in his pocket....
As he cruises toward victory, Mr. Sisi need not worry either about foreign censure: President Trump has hailed the Egyptian leader as a “fantastic guy,” and most other Western leaders have been largely silent.
Across the world, autocratic leaders are engaging in increasingly brazen behavior -- rigging votes, muzzling the press and persecuting opponents -- as they dispense with even a fig leaf of democratic practice once offered to placate the United States or gain international legitimacy.
The global tide is driven by a bewildering range of factors, including the surge of populism in Europe, waves of migration, and economic inequality. And leaders of countries like Egypt, which had long been sensitive to Washington’s influence, know they run little risk of rebuke from an American president who has largely abandoned the promotion of human rights and democracy in favor of his narrow “America First” agenda.
Yet when Trump recently waved the flag for human rights in Iran in response to public protests, the Times criticized his form, which matches the paper’s notoriously soft news coverage of the dictatorship there.
Walsh checked in on the dictatorships in Cambodia, Honduras, and of course Russia and Putin. Yet the paper arrived quite late to its condemnation of Russia, mocking Mitt Romney in 2012 for daring to call it America’s “No. 1 geopolitical foe.”
It’s bad when Trump fails to criticize what Walsh loosely calls our allies, and it’s also bad when Trump criticizes other dictatorships:
Mr. Trump, however, has not hesitated to use human rights as a cudgel against unfriendly countries, like Iran, North Korea and Venezuela, whose records he criticized in his State of the Union address on Tuesday.
Oh, let's throw in some Cold War moral-equivalence nostalgia:
American rhetoric on human rights is seen cynically in parts of the world where Washington has a history of selectively embracing despots.
During the Cold War, the United States allied with Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo; the shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi; and Gen. Augusto Pinochet of Chile. More recently, President Barack Obama was openly disdainful of Mr. Sisi’s harsh tactics yet left untouched America’s $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt.
But under President Trump, that margin has drastically shrunk, and now Mr. Sisi is heading for re-election in what the Project on Middle East Democracy this week called “the most repressive political environment in Egypt’s modern history.”
Again, the Times risks hypocrisy on its sudden concern for human rights, given the paper’s soft coverage of an authoritarian group that vies for power in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood. In fact, the Trump administration has just labeled some of the groups affiliates as terrorist organizations.
The article was retweeted approvingly by Samantha Power, Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations, who summarized in part: “....Trump is squandering real leverage & empowering bad guys’ worst instincts.”