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Human rights matter, Mr. President

Any U.S. foreign policy decision that fails to consider human rights is not only immoral but likely ineffective. We are a nation founded on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. To ignore the suffering of others is to violate our nation's bedrock principles. It is a betrayal of the founding fathers, and, worse, accepting human rights violations as a cost of doing business tells the world that the United States pursues no purpose higher than its own temporary self-interest, a self-defeating choice given how it betrays our closest allies and comforts autocrats with delusions of grandeur.

That's why President Donald Trump's recent outreach to President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines should appall and truly, deeply offend Americans who regard their country as the "last best hope of earth." In the name of a "war on drugs," Mr. Duterte's regime has killed over 7,000 people using police hit squads to murder suspected drug dealers and users. And what does the Philippines' leader say about this? "Hitler massacred 3 million Jews. Now, there are 3 million drug addicts. I'd be happy to slaughter them. If Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have (me)."

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Yet over the weekend, President Trump invited this despot to visit Washington after having what he called a "very friendly conversation" with President Duterte that touched on regional security in Southeast Asia. It apparently included no criticism of the death squads that have killed an average of 30 people each day since the Philippines president took office in mid-2016. Last fall, Mr. Duterte called Mr. Trump after his election and later claimed the president-elect had wished him success in his anti-drug campaign. There has been no refutation from the White House.

White House officials say the outreach is necessary as part of a broader pan-Asian effort to rally support against North Korea and that country's developing nuclear capabilities. But while that might be an unfortunate necessity in regards to outreach to China — no slouch in the human rights violations department itself — the Philippines is hardly a power broker on the world stage. Mr. Duterte's antagonism toward the U.S. has been evident (he has been cozying up to China and threatening to force the removal of U.S. troops from his country), but again, the Philippines has limited real world options. President Barack Obama took a tougher, more sensible line with Mr. Duterte, warning him to conduct a war on drugs "the right way" last September.

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President Trump's ambition to find allies in the Pacific might be more convincing if he hadn't torn up the Trans Pacific Partnership, the 12-nation trade agreement that might not have only given the U.S. greater economic clout in East Asia but could have helped bring greater pressure to bear on China. Collectively, the countries involved represented 40 percent of the world's trade, but Mr. Trump found the deal "ridiculous" and not sufficiently tilted toward American interests for his liking. If anything, the U.S. withdrawal was a big win for China, which remains the dominant economic power in the region. And did anyone mention that Mr. Trump has a personal stake in the Philippines, a 57-story office building in Manila that bears his name and from which he reportedly receives millions under a licensing agreement?

Mr. Trump's cozying up to Mr. Duterte also follows a disturbing pattern of his embracing strong men around the world. First, of course, was Russian President Vladimir Putin, but add to the list Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sissi. Last month, Mr. Trump was the first Western leader to congratulate President Erdogan on his successful referendum expanding his powers, a vote that international observers found suspect. Mr. Trump has already hosted the Egyptian president, who took office by military coup and who has taken a particularly brutal approach to the Muslim Brotherhood. All three leaders are rated among the world's worst offenders of human rights by Human Rights Watch.

Maybe there are times when an argument can be made that the greater good is served by tolerating abuses to avoid a far greater catastrophe for humanity, but the Philippines just doesn't meet that standard. It seems more likely that the 45th president just doesn't seem to be bothered by death squads or political prisoners or crackdowns on a free press. Remember when Khizr Kahn, the father of a Muslim soldier killed in action in Iraq, offered Mr. Trump a copy of the U.S. Constitution so he might understand the concept of equal protection under the law? Better add the Declaration of Independence to the president's must-read list so he might learn about the inalienable rights of men as well.

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