Just Another Thug in a Suit

Andrew Sullivan in New York Magazine:

While we’re on the subject of Trump’s “foreign policy,” I can’t get out of my head two recent White House pressers with two foreign leaders. The first showed a petulant, scowling child seated next to the leader of the free world, Angela Merkel. He pouted; he pursed his lips; and he refused pointedly to shake her hand, even after she suggested it. By many accounts, his private conversation revolved around Germany’s financial contribution to NATO, insisting, as if the alliance were a shakedown racket, that the Germans repay the U.S. countless billions for defense over the years. It was as if the Second World War had never happened.

Now watch the public meeting with the Egyptian dictator Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Trump was almost as fawning, excited, and thrilled as the Egyptian leader himself. “We agree on so many things,” the president said. He praised the tyrant for his “fantastic” record; he nodded and beamed when Sisi noted that he hadn’t been allowed in the White House under Obama. And then the handshake — except this time, it was markedly un-Trumpy. There was no sudden pull, no endless glad-handing, merely a brief, affectionate normal handshake. And a giant beam on both faces.

The contrast sickens. I completely understand the realist belief that the U.S. needs Egypt for strategic purposes. For all the foulness of its current regime, which overthrew a democratically elected government, there’s a reasonable case that developing a good relationship with the leadership there is important. I’m not a purist in these matters. But what I cannot fathom are the supine paeans of praise for a dictatorship, and the obvious thrill Trump got from sitting down with another thug in a suit. After Sisi’s military coup, the Egyptian leader was “elected” by a Soviet-style 96.1 percent of the vote. Tens of thousands of people are currently political prisoners. Torture is commonplace. Coptic Christians are persecuted. The press has been completely cowed by threats, violence, and imprisonment. Freedom House argues that civil society in Egypt has been “crushed.” Sisi’s brutal repression of Islamism has, moreover, led to a surge of terror attacks in the last few years.

As a giant cherry on the shit sundae, the U.S. gives Egypt aid of, on average, $1.3 billion a year — well over $35 billion since 1978. Why, one wonders, would Trump harangue democratic Germany, which receives no direct aid, while fawning over a dictator of a country that is one of the top recipients of American tax-payers dollars? Yes, I know he has a soft spot for tyrants. But squeezing a democracy for hundreds of billions while rhetorically fellating a dictator who actually does suck the Treasury dry seems, well, as coherent as his “policy” on Syria.

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