- By Robbie GramerRobbie Gramer is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. He writes for The Cable, FP’s real-time take on all things, well, foreign policy. Before he joined FP in 2016, he used to think in a tank, managing the NATO portfolio at the Atlantic Council for three years. He’s a graduate of American University’s School of International Service, where he studied international relations and European affairs. He has lived in both Washington and Brussels, though he grew up in Idaho and Oregon, so he’s a West Coaster at heart. When he’s not busy reporting, he’s probably busy starting three new books before he has finished the last one or planning a trip to a national park he hasn’t visited yet.
It was potentially two gaffes for the price of one on President Donald Trump’s call with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte last month.
First, Trump praised Duterte for his deadly and controversial war on drugs in remarks that stunned White House aids and human rights experts. In a private call on April 29, Trump praised Duterte for doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem” in his country, referring to Duterte’s violent anti-drug campaign that led to the deaths of nearly 9,000 people, many gunned down on the streets.
“I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug program,” Trump told Duterte, according to a transcript of the call obtained by the Washington Post. “Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.”
International watchdogs and human rights groups slammed Duterte for his controversial war on drugs, in which he’s encourage extrajudicial killings of users and dealers in a massive wave of violence. “Hitler massacred 3 million Jews, now, there’s 3 million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them,” Duterte said last year. (In fact, Nazi Germany massacred 6 million Jews.)
Trump’s praise of Duterte sparked immediate outrage in human rights circles. “To endorse Duterte is to endorse a man who advocates mass murder and who has admitted to killing people himself,” John Sifton of Human Rights Watch told the Intercept. “Endorsing his methods is a celebration of the death of the poor and vulnerable.”
Then, Trump divulged to Duterte that he deployed two U.S. nuclear submarines near North Korean waters — a juicy nugget of sensitive information that may raise (yet more) questions about the U.S. president’s handling of classified information.
“We have a lot of firepower over there,” Trump boasted. “We have two submarines — the best in the world — we have two nuclear submarines — not that we want to use them at all,” he told Duterte, who veers wildly between cozying up to Washington and Beijing.
Trump came under fire last month for reportedly disclosing classified intelligence provided by Israel on the Islamic State to top Russian officials. The disclosure, which took place during a meeting in the Oval Office, prompted current and former government officials to question how the president handles classified information.
Trump and Duterte also discussed the growing threat from North Korea’s nuclear missile program and the country’s enigmatic leader, Kim Jong Un. “He is playing with his bombs, his toys and from the looks of it, his mind is not working well and he might just go crazy one moment,” Duterte told Trump.
“We can’t let a madman with nuclear weapons let on the loose like that,” Trump replied. “We have a lot of firepower, more than he has, times 20 but we don’t want to use it.”
Photo credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images