The New York Times reports on President Donald Trump’s time this weekend with the President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte–whose human rights record has earned his regime worldwide condemnation, and became a serious political hot potato after Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado snuck into Manila to visit Duterte for a diplomatic visit earlier this year:
President Trump said on Monday that he had a “great relationship” with President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, making little mention of human rights at his first face-to-face meeting with an authoritarian leader accused of carrying out a campaign of extrajudicial killings in his nation’s war on drugs.
In a stark break from past practice by American presidents, who have pressed foreign leaders publicly and privately about allegations of human rights abuses, Mr. Trump instead pursued his own transactional style of diplomacy, dwelling mostly on areas of common ground during his meeting with Mr. Duterte. On the sideline of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit meeting, Mr. Trump focused on combating the Islamic State and illegal drugs as well as on trade issues, the White House said…
Mr. Trump “appeared sympathetic and did not have any official position on the matter and was merely nodding his head, indicating that he understood the domestic problem that we faced on drugs,” said Harry Roque, Mr. Duterte’s spokesman. “The issue of human rights did not arise; it was not brought up.”
After Gardner’s visit with Duterte was disclosed (mind you, not before), Gardner went to great lengths to insist that yes, he did caution President Duterte about human rights abuses alleged to have occurred during the ongoing Filipino “war on drugs.” There was never any proof that Gardner had broached this subject with Duterte, since no audio from the meetings ever emerged. On Filipino television, Gardner’s visit was treated like a routine visit from a foreign dignitary–certainly with nothing to indicate any controversy.
Again, it’s important to establish clearly that Gardner made no advance statement about his trip to Malina, and only expressed his concerns about Duterte’s record on human rights after his visit there was exposed. If there was any actual change in policy as a result of this visit, nobody ever reported on it.
And folks, this is not a photo that connotes troubled relations.
For Americans who, like Sen. Gardner claims to, care about human rights around the world, this is an incredibly embarrassing photo. For Gardner in particular, who if we are to believe him traveled to Manila to express reservations about the extrajudicial killings and other crimes alleged to have been committed under Duterte…
How is this not a betrayal? How can Gardner not be outraged?
Unless, of course, Gardner never was.