This is America: Outrage at Trump is phony, US leaders have praised dictators for decades

Danielle Ryan
Danielle Ryan is an Irish freelance writer based in Dublin. Her work has appeared in Salon, The Nation, Rethinking Russia, teleSUR, RBTH, The Calvert Journal and others. Follow her on Twitter @DanielleRyanJ
This is America: Outrage at Trump is phony, US leaders have praised dictators for decades
Donald Trump’s praise this week of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been presented by much of the Washington political class and US corporate media as an anomaly in history and a stark deviation from political norms.

It is not normal or right, they tell us, for US presidents to meet with and applaud dictators of brutal regimes. This kind of phony virtue-signaling was all over the airwaves and the Twittersphere on Tuesday. It was like a competition with the winner being the person who could publicly register their disgust and dismay in the most dramatic fashion possible.

One former Republican lawmaker tweeted that “never before” in history had a US president “spoken this way of a dictator accused of crimes against his own people” — an outright lie, as pointed out by journalist Glenn Greenwald, who detailed a number of occasions when American presidents and top ranking officials had indeed heaped praise on dictators — from Barack Obama’s praise of the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia as a man who had “the courage of his convictions” and who was “dedicated” to his people, to Ronald Reagan’s praise of former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt as "a man of great integrity" — to Hillary Clinton’s description of Hosni Mubarak as a "friend of my family."

In the real world, even the most mildly politically-aware person knows that meeting with and praising dictators is par for the course in US foreign policy. The United States has a long history of befriending, praising and propping up brutal dictators all over the world — and flattering Kim with a few meaningless comments designed to foster goodwill is absolutely mild in comparison with the tangible support the US lends to other dictatorships.

Curiously though, many of those shouting loudly in protest at Trump’s praise of Kim are unbothered when American presidents — Trump included — lavish praise on those friendly dictators that Washington relies on to help serve its geopolitical interests. While they breathlessly condemn Trump for cozying up to Kim for a few hours in Singapore, they are nonchalant about US support for brutal regimes like Saudi Arabia.

Last year, peace activist and former Green Party candidate for Illinois governor Rich Whitney, compiled research in an effort to dispel the myth that the US opposes dictatorships and champions democracy around the world. What he found would not come as a surprise to any rational observer of global affairs, but would surely shock heavily propagandized Americans who have been led to believe that their country promotes freedom and democracy since they were waddling around in diapers.

Analyzing publicly available data, Whitney found that the US provides military assistance to 36 out of 49 nations that democracy watchdog Freedom House classifies as dictatorships. In other words, the US provides military support to a whopping 73 percent the world’s dictatorships while simultaneously claiming to be the most virtuous and well-intentioned nation on earth.

There is one determining factor when it comes to the decision to lend US support to a foreign government or regime — and it is a simple one: If that government or regime is sufficiently subservient to Washington and serves US global interests in any meaningful way, it will be protected and propped up at almost any cost. Its crimes will be swept under the rug and human rights concerns, along with freedom and democracy, will go straight out the window. Every now and then, some US official may pay lip service to its supposed moral values by expressing “deep concern” over some heinous incident or other before swiftly moving on.

This is the reality, yet we are still told to believe Trump is some kind of historical anomaly and subjected to endless think-pieces and on-air pearl-clutching over his “problematic” affinity for some questionable characters. The narrative goes, that before Trump, US leaders were all going around crushing dictatorships and delivering peace and prosperity to oppressed peoples everywhere. This kind of revisionist commentary is completely disingenuous and utterly at odds with reality and history — yet it is spewed unquestioningly from the mouths of journalists, analysts, various “experts” and regular Americans without so much as a pause to consider whether it has any basis in fact. It would take far too long to list every instance of the US supporting — and indeed installing — brutal dictatorships around the world, but there are some that stand out as particularly shameful moments in American history.

In 1973, the CIA engineered and financed a bloody coup in Chile which installed Augusto Pinochet for a 17-year reign of terror. Declassified documents show that while the Pinochet regime was torturing and murdering its opponents, the US actively sought to downplay and whitewash Chile’s human rights violations — and even put the head of the Chilean secret police, Manuel Contreras, on the CIA payroll.

In the 1960s, the US actively supported the extermination of up to one million suspected communist sympathizers in Indonesia under the leadership of General Suharto. Washington supplied Suharto with financial support, military equipment and lists of communists. Suharto then ruled as a dictator for 35 years until 1998 — with Washington’s support.

Propping up and providing material support for dictatorships has been a central theme of US foreign policy. Trump’s kind words for Kim are not a worrying departure from the norm. In fact, they barely even register in the history of American support for brutality and corruption.

Unfortunately, the notion that the White House supports democracy and crushes dictatorships is a belief system so ingrained in the American psyche that when confronted with reality, rather than admit they’ve been lied to, its adherents instead begin to look for ways to rationalize the inexcusable. At that point, we’re told that even if America does bad things sometimes, it’s all with good intention — or as Hillary Clinton would say, “America is great because America is good”.

The level of delusion required to believe something so demonstrably false and easily debunked is astounding. Then again, it must be difficult to come to terms with the fact that something which made you feel righteous and good for so long was only ever a nonsense fairytale.

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