Two weeks ago, tensions were running high between Washington, D.C., and Moscow. The Kremlin, after all, had just been accused -- by the Trump administration, among others -- of launching a poison-gas assassination attempt on British soil. When Donald Trump was poised to speak by telephone with Russian President Vladimir Putin, White House officials prepared briefing materials that included, in all-capital letters, "DO NOT CONGRATULATE."
Soon after, Trump congratulated Putin on winning re-election -- in a race in which the Russian leader's rivals weren't allowed to run.
The ensuing controversy made the American president look awful, though Trump appears to have learned no lessons from the experience. The Washington Post reported late yesterday:
President Trump congratulated Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi on his landslide reelection victory, the White House said Monday -- an election critics derided as a sham that all but guaranteed al-Sissi a second term in office. [...]In his bid for a second four-year term, Sissi won with more than 97 percent of the vote in an election that drew about 41 percent turnout, according to the Associated Press.... He faced no serious opponent, with all credible challengers pushed out of the race.
A piece in The Week noted that the U.S. State Department issued a mild statement on the Egyptian elections, highlighting "reports of constraints on freedoms of expression and association in the run-up to the elections."
And yet, there was Trump, congratulating al-Sissi -- and acknowledging the well wishes in writing.
So for those keeping score at home, after Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan won a disputed referendum that helped him solidify his autocratic rule, Trump called to congratulate him. When China scrapped term limits to Xi Jinping, Trump offered praise. When Putin held onto power in Russia, Trump called to congratulate him.
The American president with autocratic tendencies has also offered public praise for Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong-un, and Rodrigo Duterte, all of which led up to yesterday's call to al-Sisi.
Those looking for Trump to be an international leader on promoting democratic principles are likely to be disappointed.