Some might call them strongmen. Some might call them dictators. President Donald Trump might also call them friends.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Philippines President (and self-confessed murderer) Rodrigo Duterte are among the world leaders Trump has invested time in during his first year in office.
Trump has also hosted less controversial foreign leaders, such as Japan’s Shinzo Abe and Britain’s Theresa May, for visits that included jocular press conferences and in some cases even golf.
He is also far from the first U.S. leader to break bread with an erstwhile foe; President Richard Nixon took the first step to normalizing relations with China by shaking hands with Chairman Mao Zedong, and President Barack Obama hailed a “win-win” nuclear deal between the West and Iran.
The U.S., like many countries, maintains some nuanced diplomatic ties that can bring awkward encounters.
In 2009, Obama was criticized for sharing a joke with late Venezuelan dictator, Hugo Chavez. Obama later explained it was unlikely that “as a consequence of me shaking hands or having a polite conversation with Mr. Chavez, we are endangering the strategic interests of the United States.”
However, some analysts say Trump’s willingness to build apparently unconditional personal relationships with strongmen could alienate traditional allies.
“It’s not clear what [this administration’s] strategic goals are because the personal politics, the personal relationships don’t align with U.S. strategic objectives,” said Leslie Vinjamuri, an associate fellow with the U.S. and Americas program at the London-based Chatham House think tank.
Brian Klaas, a fellow at the London School of Economics, likened the traditional U.S. role in global affairs to that of a “biased referee” who would “call penalties on things like human rights and democracy” despite turning a blind eye to actions of problematic allies such as Saudi Arabia.
“What’s different now is that Trump is just fully embracing autocrats without any sort of criticism,” said Klaas, who is the author of “The Despot’s Accomplice.”