This year, President Donald Trump‘s trips abroad and statements have highlighted his love for world’s strongmen. Over the course of the summer, he has met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un and has expressed desire to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
In 2017, Trump met with other strongmen leaders, such as Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, a self-professed murderer, whom the U.S. president claims to have a “great relationship” with.
Pres Trump says he's willing to meet with Iranian Pres Rouhani. "I would certainly meet with Iran if they’re ready to meet." He's not sure they are. @POTUS said he would have "no preconditions," for such a meeting with Iran. "They want to meet, I’ll meet. Anytime they want." pic.twitter.com/Aed4qOWM5O
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) July 30, 2018
Little has happened as a result of these meetings and plans. Russia has made no changes in its foreign policy and continued to deny meddling in the U.S. elections. North Korea has yet to fulfill any promises to denuclearize. At the same time, Iran and the U.S. are in a deadlock over the 2015 nuclear deal.
Even though Trump’s meetings with strongmen lack tangible outcomes, the president’s love affair with them continues.
John B. Londregan, professor of politics and international affairs, and specialist in the application of statistical methods in political science, told The Globe Post that Trump’s motives with respect to Kim are “a bit different” than for Putin.
“With Kim it’s a chance to grab headlines and to be seen ‘trying to make peace’ – which gets him less unfavorable press,” Londregan said. He noted that Trump tends to demonize countries the U.S. has trade surplus running with, such as South Korea, so he is working to come out ahead by engaging with North Korea.
“With Putin, I suspect he [Trump] is being blackmailed — Putin probably has enough evidence against Trump to get him impeached by a Congress controlled by Democrats,” said Londregan. Even if not, ‘Trump appears reluctant to risk Putin’s wrath.”
President Trump has congratulated Putin and Sisi on their undemocratic re-elections, he congratulated Duterte on extrajudicial killings, and he congratulated Erdogan on the referendum that sealed authoritarian rule. (Bonus: Trump also praised China abolishing term limits for Xi.) pic.twitter.com/p2pdd3TgyL
— Marshall Cohen (@MarshallCohen) April 2, 2018
Along with political strategy, there was a discussion on how the president is mentally structuring his ideas around meetings with such leaders, and how his leadership is affecting foreign policy.
President Trump blames tense situations with Russia on “U.S. foolishness” and “the Rigged Witch Hunt”, ostensibly referring to the current investigation into the possible Trump campaign and Russia collusion.
However, some oppose the idea that Trump lacks the necessary political or mental strength to take on strongmen in meetings of the will.
“I think Trump had no experience with the way in which a constitutional government like ours works. He’s had to learn that,” Stanley Renshon, Professor of Political Science at the City University of New York and a psychologist and psychoanalyst, told The Globe Post. But he went on to say that outright stating that the president has no will, or no mental capacity, to keep up with world leaders is a “shallow idea…He’s not a weak-willed person. That’s just not him.”
Renshon said Trump is trying to quickly solve problems with the leaders while doing what many presidents have done with political strongmen: seeking peace by seeking a meeting.
Renshon, who has written profiles on past presidents and is working on a book on the current U.S. leader, said Trump is moving with the mind of a man who has long worked in the private sector. His brash moves have resulted in some negative outcomes, like the results of the so-called Muslim ban at the beginning of his term, but that they are overall indicative of a president with a cohesive plan.
In regards to trying to work out differences with the strongmen, Renshon said Trump “is a guy who doesn’t mind breaking some eggs to get an omelet.”
In a statement to the Los Angeles Times in 2017, Christopher Ruddy, chief executive of Newsmax and longtime friend of Trump, said the president’s outreach abroad is part of a strategy.
“I think he wants to build bridges,” Ruddy said. “He sees that if he can open up the door by praising someone or finding something to compliment, even a guy that might be considered a bad guy, he sees that as a step in the right direction.”
When asked about Trump’s attitude towards these leaders, Ruddy said the president “admires” them. “I think he respects people who are considered strong or people that have very high approval in their countries. That’s important for him.”