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Trump’s Strongman Weakness

NEW YORK – US President Donald Trump has made his affinity for authoritarian leaders abundantly clear.

When Trump entertained Abdel Fattah el-Sisi at the White House in April, he praised the Egyptian military ruler for doing “a fantastic job.” And after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared a narrow victory in a referendum to approve a significant expansion of the presidency’s powers, Trump called to offer his congratulations.

Trump has also extended an invitation to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who is presiding over a “war on drugs” that has so far resulted in thousands of extrajudicial killings by the police. And he has continued to speak of Chinese President Xi Jinping in glowing terms, ever since the two met in April at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.

Trump has openly praised these and other strongmen, not least Russian President Vladimir Putin. But praise is not the same thing as policymaking; and, until this month, Trump and his advisers had left us guessing as to whether his enthusiasm for authoritarian leaders would actually lead to a change of course for US foreign policy.