South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the Republican Party’s leading voices on defense and foreign affairs, said Wednesday that it is wrong to endorse the campaign of extrajudicial killing being carried out by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
On Tuesday, The Intercept reported that President Trump called Duterte with the specific goal of congratulating him on the campaign, which Duterte describes as a “drug war.”
“I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem,” Trump told Duterte at the beginning of their call, according to the transcript obtained by The Intercept. “Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.”
Graham said that any assessment of Duterte’s campaign has to take into account how he’s going about it. “I disagree with the way he’s carrying out the drug war. I disagree with the authoritarian manner with which he’s running the country, but I don’t know what the White House said or did, I wasn’t there. But I can tell you my own view, this is not a guy we want to empower,” Graham told The Intercept. “You just have to stand up for the rule of law.”
Earlier this week, while abroad in Russia, Duterte declared martial law on a portion of the Philippines.
Graham is the chairman of the powerful appropriations subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, which controls crucial foreign policy purse strings.
The Obama administration had previously blocked a sale of arms to the national police carrying out Duterte’s executions. That move was made under pressure from Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., who said he would block the sale. Earlier this month, Cardin introduced a bill that would place restrictions on such sales, together with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
Graham said that he was open to co-sponsoring the measure. “I would certainly be interested in any decisions they make because I respect them both,” he said. “We have a relationship with the Philippines; there’s radical Islamic terrorist groups over there that we’re actually in a fight with. You have to do two things at once: You have to help the Philippine people, and ourselves, by dealing with the terrorism over there before it comes here, but also standing up for your values.”
In his speech this week in Saudi Arabia, Trump promised he would not “lecture” other countries on human rights.