Trump says that the ‘tougher and meaner’ foreign autocrats are, the ‘better I get along with them,’ new Woodward tape reveals

Trump Erdogan
President Donald Trump greets Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan during a joint news conference at the White House in Washington, DC, November 13, 2019.
  • President Donald Trump told veteran reporter Bob Woodward that he gets along better with "tougher and meaner" foreign leaders than "the easy ones." 
  • Trump was discussing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has a long record of human rights violations, with Woodward for his new book, "Rage."
  • "I get along very well with Erdogan, even though you're not supposed to because everyone says 'What a horrible guy,'" Trump told Woodward.
  • The president has frequently generated controversy over his conciliatory, subservient demeanor toward autocratic leaders.
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President Donald Trump told veteran journalist Bob Woodward that he gets along better with "tougher and meaner" foreign leaders like Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

"I get along very well with Erdogan, even though you're not supposed to because everyone says 'What a horrible guy,'" Trump told Woodward in one of 17 interviews for the journalist's new book, "Rage."

"But for me it works out good. It's funny, the relationships I have, the tougher and meaner they are, the better I get along with them. You know? Explain that to me someday, OK?" Trump said, adding, "The easy ones are the ones I maybe don't like as much or don't get along with so much."

The conversation was recorded. Woodward on Monday shared an audio clip highlighting Trump's take on foreign leaders with NBC's "Today" show.

As Woodward noted in the book, Erdogan has an abysmal record when it comes to human rights and has rapidly eroded any democratic checks on his authority in recent years while also cracking down on dissent. 

In one of the most controversial moves of his tenure, Trump last October pulled US troops from northeast Syria, which paved the way for a Turkish military incursion that targeted US-allied Kurdish forces. The Kurds bore the brunt of the US-led campaign against ISIS, playing a crucial role in bringing down the Islamic State's caliphate. Erdogan has long viewed the Kurdish forces, especially the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), as a threat and characterized them as terrorists. 

Trump's decision to pull troops from the region and greenlight the Turkish military assault was widely decried in the US, including by Republicans who felt the president was abandoning a vital ally

The president has frequently generated controversy over his conciliatory, subservient demeanor toward autocratic leaders like Erdogan. Trump has also praised numerous anti-democratic leaders, from Russian President Vladimir Putin to Chinese President Xi Jinping, and his rhetoric often echoes theirs. 

Meanwhile, Trump has eroded US relations with traditional allies by pulling out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and repeatedly bashing NATO allies based on a misleading interpretation of how the historic alliance is funded.

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