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Max Boot Commentary Post: 'Trump's Hand In Duterte's Dirty Work'

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Trump has quarrelled with a number of allies, including leaders in Britain, France and Germany, but he has been unstinted in his praise of Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines. The U.S. State Department 2016 Human Rights Report says that Philippine police and vigilantes have killed more than 6,000 suspected drug dealers and users in what amounts to a policy of official massacre. Hitler massacred 3 million Jews, Duterte said after his election last year - getting that number wrong incidentally - now there are 3 million drug addicts. I'd be happy to slaughter them.

But in a May 23 transcript of President Trump's phone call, Trump invites Duterte to the White House and says, I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem. What a great job you are doing, and I just wanted to call and tell you that.

Max Boot, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, writes about this on the website for Commentary Magazine. He joins us from New York. Mr. Boot, thanks so much for being with us.

MAX BOOT: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: You say that President Trump thereby associates himself with any human rights crimes committed in the Philippines. How so?

BOOT: Well, the United States has a long relationship with the Philippines, dating back more than a century. We have very close cultural and human and strategic and military ties to the Philippines, and we can use that influence for good or for ill. Now, President Trump is using his influence with the Philippines in a very negative way. Instead of restraining President Duterte from his human rights abuses and from the rule of law, Trump is egging him on, saying you're doing a great job when he's got death squads out there killing people. I mean, this is - it's outrageous. And you know, there are so many outrages in the Trump White House, but this is one that we should not lose sight of.

SIMON: Mr. Boot, what about the argument that how the Philippine government handles an insurgency by declaring martial law, say, in Mindanao or drug crime, for that matter, is their business? It's a matter of Philippine sovereignty.

BOOT: Well, there is an element of truth to that, but we are a powerful ally of the Philippines, and it should matter to us whether our allies are upholding human rights and democracy or violating it. And normally, when we look the other way, it's a short-term expedient, which comes back to bite us in the long run. I'm very worried that he will follow his idol, Ferdinand Marcos, by declaring nationwide martial law, which he will then use as an excuse for dictatorial rule.

SIMON: President Trump has invited President Duterte to the White House - no date set yet that we know about. What do you think of that?

BOOT: I think it's a travesty and especially the way that he worded the invitation in this May 23 phone call, of which we have the transcript, where he said, you know, I would love to have you in the Oval Office any time you want to come, keep up the good work, you're doing an amazing job. I mean, this is how he talks to this deranged human rights abuser who is the president of the Philippines.

Compare that to the way that he speaks to our closest Democratic allies in Western Europe. Trump was reported to have said that Germany is very bad, very, very bad. And what is it that Germany is doing that's so bad? They're selling us a lot of cars that Americans want to buy. In Trump's mind, that's a grave sin. But going out and slaughtering people semi-randomly in the streets, as the president of the Philippines is doing, that's OK. I mean, this is not what America ought to be about.

SIMON: Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations and Commentary Magazine, thanks so much.

BOOT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.