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On coddling dictators, Tom Cotton picks the wrong presidential fight

If Tom Cotton wants to have a debate over which of the 2020 presidential candidates has "coddled" dictators, Dems would probably welcome the conversation.
Image: Tom Cotton
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., speaks to reporters as he arrives for a meeting with fellow Republicans, including Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who are at the Capitol to discuss the nation's criminal justice sentencing laws, in Washington on Nov. 27, 2018.J. Scott Applewhite / AP file

On the second night of the Republican National Convention, former FBI agent Richard Beasley appeared in a video in which he said, "I've seen it before where guys have used the Bible as a prop." In context, Beasley was referring to a criminal he'd arrested, but it was hard not to wonder whether he realized that Donald Trump recently used the Bible as a prop.

At the same Republican convention, former Florida state Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) decried the societal scourge of nepotism. As she delivered her remarks, viewers were reminded they'd soon hear remarks from several members of the president's family -- a contradiction Bondi seemed oblivious to.

Throughout the convention, multiple speakers celebrated Trump's opposition to "cancel culture," raising questions as to whether any of them were familiar with Trump, who's repeatedly and enthusiastically embraced "cancel culture."

All of which came to mind last night, when Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) declared in prepared remarks that it's Joe Biden who has "coddled" dictators -- raising anew the question of whether the Republicans speaking at the party's national convention actually know anything about the president they're so eager to re-elect.

If you're wondering where foreign policy has gone wrong under Trump, look no further than his fawning over autocrats. "This all seems to result from Trump's somewhat bizarre but persistent belief that you can only trust the word of other strongmen -- from China's Xi Jinping to North Korea's Kim Jong Un to Russia's Vladimir Putin," Paul Musgrave, a US foreign policy expert at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, told me.

Indeed, this is one of the defining elements of Trump's foreign policy: he's routinely expressed admiration for Russia's Vladimir Putin, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, North Korea's Kim Jong-un, Egypt's Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and the Philippines' Rodrigo Duterte for their capacity to demonstrate what Trump considers "toughness." He's done so while systemically alienating traditional Western allies of the United States.

What's more, as recently as 2016, Trump also publicly touted Saddam Hussein's approach to governing in Iraq. It wasn't the first time the Republican offered tacit praise for the former Iraqi dictator.

If Tom Cotton wants to have a debate over which of the 2020 presidential candidates has "coddled" dictators, I suspect Democrats would welcome the conversation.