Monday, April 15, 2024

Previous advisors are warning that in private conversations and during political campaigns, Trump speaks highly of authoritarian leaders

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To Donald Trump, Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán is “great,” Chinese leader Xi Jinping is “smart,” North Korea’s Kim Jong Un is “okay,” and, surprisingly, he reportedly said Adolf Hitler “did some good things.” If Trump were to win the presidential election in November, his worldview could change US foreign policy, according to former senior advisers who spoke to CNN.

“He thought Putin was okay and Kim was okay — that we had pushed North Korea into a corner,” said retired Gen. John Kelly, Trump’s former chief of staff. “To him, it was like we were goading these guys. ‘If we didn’t have NATO, then Putin wouldn’t be doing these things.’”

Trump’s strong praise for Orbán during a recent visit to Mar-a-Lago suggests he is sticking to this worldview.

While Trump’s admiration for autocratic leaders has been reported before, comments from Kelly and others shed light on why they believe a leader who consistently praises those opposed to US interests is not fit for handling potential conflicts with major powers. They argue that Trump admires these figures because he envies their power.

“He views himself as a big guy,” said John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser. “He likes dealing with other big guys, and big guys like Erdogan in Turkey get to put people in jail and you don’t have to ask anybody’s permission. He kind of likes that.”

Alleged praise for Hitler
Trump allegedly went even further in his praise for Hitler, claiming he “did some good things,” particularly in rebuilding the economy. However, Kelly emphasized the importance of not acknowledging any positive aspects due to Hitler’s actions against his own people and the world.

“He’s not a tough guy by any means, but in fact quite the opposite,” Kelly said. “But that’s how he envisions himself.”

Trump’s admiration for Hitler extended to the German leader’s control over senior Nazi officers, as Trump lamented his own difficulties in maintaining loyalty among his staff.

“He would ask about the loyalty issues and about how, when I pointed out to him the German generals as a group were not loyal to him, and in fact tried to assassinate him a few times, and he didn’t know that,” Kelly recalled. “He truly believed, when he brought us generals in, that we would be loyal — that we would do anything he wanted us to do,” Kelly told me.

In response to the former advisers’ allegations, Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung criticized their credibility and accused them of suffering from “Trump Derangement Syndrome.”

‘Shocked that he didn’t have dictatorial-type powers’
Trump consistently praised Russian President Vladimir Putin, particularly highlighting the ease of their meetings compared to encounters with NATO leaders. Trump’s former advisers suggest that his admiration for dictators stems from a desire for the kind of power they wield.

“My theory on why he likes the dictators so much is that’s who he is,” said Kelly. “Every incoming president is shocked that they actually have so little power without going to the Congress, which is a good thing. It’s Civics 101, separation of powers, three equal branches of government. But in his case, he was shocked that he didn’t have dictatorial-type powers to send US forces places or to move money around within the budget. And he looked at Putin and Xi and that nutcase in North Korea as people who were like him in terms of being a tough guy.”

Trump’s affinity for authoritarian leaders remains a significant issue as the 2024 election approaches. Former advisers warn of a potential shift in US vision and global role if he secures a second term, including the possibility of withdrawing from NATO and reducing commitments to defense alliances.

“NATO would be in real jeopardy,” Bolton said. “I think he would try to get out.” Several former Trump administration officials also warn that US support for Ukraine could end under a second Trump term.

“The point is, he saw absolutely no point in NATO,” Kelly said. “He was just dead set against having troops in South Korea, again, a deterrent force, or having troops in Japan, a deterrent force.”

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