Donald Trump's soft spot for dictators

Donald Trump: Iraq is 'Harvard for terrorism'
Donald Trump: Iraq is 'Harvard for terrorism'

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Donald Trump: Iraq is 'Harvard for terrorism' 00:58

Story highlights

  • Donald Trump praised Saddam Hussein at a rally on Tuesday
  • Trump has occasionally had kind words for dictators

(CNN)From Vladimir Putin to Saddam Hussein, Donald Trump has regularly and openly expressed his admiration for a rogues' gallery of foreign dictators and autocrats.

Does he have a soft spot for strongmen?
    The former Iraqi leader, who was mentioned in an eyebrow-raising speech Tuesday, is a recurring character. Critics have called it a fixation and a window into how Trump would govern if elected. Hillary Clinton -- and her campaign -- have repeatedly assailed her likely opponent for offering, as adviser Jake Sullivan put it, "cavalier compliments" to international despots.
    "I will leave it to the psychiatrists to explain his attraction to tyrants," said Clinton herself in a June national security speech.
    Among those on the receiving end of Trump's good graces:

    Saddam Hussein

    While Trump is hardly alone in suggesting American-backed regime change has done more harm than good in the Middle East, his assessment of Hussein's crimes sounds almost approving.
    "Saddam Hussein throws a little gas, everyone goes crazy," he said in December, dismissing any indignation at Iraq's past use of chemical weapons, most notably a March 1988 poison gas attack that killed more than 5,000 Kurds living in northern Iraq.
    Trump previewed his most recent comments a couple months earlier, during an October 2015 interview with CNN's Jake Tapper.
    He said at the time, Hussein "would kill the terrorists immediately, now it's the Harvard of terrorism."
    Trump: World better with Hussein and Gadhafi in power
    SOTU Donald Trump on Hussein Gadhafi_00004108

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    Trump: World better with Hussein and Gadhafi in power 01:19
    Trump revived the Ivy League comparison on Tuesday night, when, after calling Hussein "a bad guy," he added: "But you know what he did well? He killed terrorists. He did that so good. They didn't read them the rights. They didn't talk. They were terrorists. Over. Today, Iraq is Harvard for terrorism."

    Kim Jong Un

    Like with the since-deposed and executed Iraqi dictator, Trump in January first called North Korea's Kim a "maniac," then riffed with some awe on the young despot's bloody rise to power.
    "You have to give him credit," Trump said.
    "How many young guys -- he was like 26 or 25 when his father died -- take over these tough generals, and all of a sudden -- you know, it's pretty amazing when you think of it. How does he do that? Even though it is a culture and it's a cultural thing, he goes in, he takes over, and he's the boss. It's incredible. He wiped out the uncle. He wiped out this one, that one. I mean, this guy doesn't play games. And we can't play games with him. Because he really does have missiles. And he really does have nukes."
    The U.S. on Wednesday added Kim's country to its sanctions list for human rights abuses.
    "Under Kim Jong Un, North Korea continues to inflict intolerable cruelty and hardship on millions of its own people, including extrajudicial killings, forced labor and torture," Adam J. Szubin, a top Treasury Department official, said in a statement.

    Moammar Gadhafi

    Trump often pairs the former Libyan dictator with Hussein as a means of attacking Clinton, who voted in the Senate to authorize military force against the latter and backed military intervention against Gadhafi during her turn as secretary of state. Now, with Libya emerging as a second home to ISIS fighters flushed out of Syria and Iraq, he has been vocal in his repeating belief that "we would be so much better off if Gadhafi were in charge right now."
    Trump: World better with Hussein and Gadhafi in power
    Trump: World better with Hussein and Gadhafi in power

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    Trump: World better with Hussein and Gadhafi in power 02:00
    "If these politicians went to the beach and didn't do a thing, and we had Saddam Hussein and if we had Gadhafi in charge, instead of having terrorism all over the place, we'd be -- at least they killed terrorists, all right," he said during a February primary debate.
    "And I'm not saying they were good because they were bad, they were really bad, but we don't know what we're getting," he continued, adding the usual caveat. "You look at Libya right now, ISIS, as we speak, is taking over their oil. As we speak, it's a total mess."
    Gadhafi ruled Libya from September 1969 up until his killing by rebel forces following the NATO-led intervention in 2011. His repressive regime killed thousands of its own people and, for decades, was a leading state terror sponsor.

    Vladimir Putin

    Over the course of a campaign promising to reclaim America's standing in a world that Trump claims has come to mock or dismiss it, Russia's Vladimir Putin -- a former Soviet KGB officer turned autocratic president -- has repeatedly emerged as a kind of beacon.
    "He's running his country and at least he's a leader, unlike what we have in this country," Trump said on MSNBC in December, a day after Putin, in his annual press conference, called the billionaire "an outstanding and talented personality" who had emerged as "the absolute leader of the presidential race."
    Trump and Putin's bromance
    Trump and Putin's bromance

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    Trump and Putin's bromance 06:58
    It wasn't Trump's first turn praising the Russian leader. After recalling with some pleasure that they had once appeared on the same highly rated episode of "60 Minutes," he told CBS' "Face the Nation" in October 2015 that a reunion could be fruitful.
    "I think that I would at the same time get along very well with him," Trump said of Putin. "He does not like Obama at all. He doesn't respect Obama at all. And I'm sure that Obama doesn't like him very much. But I think that I would probably get along with him very well. And I don't think you'd be having the kind of problems that you're having right now."
    Among them: Obama administration accusations that Putin's Russia is bombing "moderate" rebels in Syria as a means of propping that country's own dictator, Bashar Assad.

    Benito Mussolini

    Trump stopped short of endorsing Mussolini's governing style, but couldn't deny his attraction to a quote widely attributed to the World War II-era Italian fascist leader and staunch ally of Adolph Hitler.
    On February 28, the candidate retweeted a parody account created by a Gawker writer that had assigned the line to Trump himself: "@ilduce2016: 'It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep. -- @realDonaldTrump"
    Hours later, on NBC's "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd asked Trump, "Do you like the quote? Did you know it was Mussolini?"
    "Sure," Trump replied. "It's OK to know it's Benito Mussolini. Look, Mussolini was Mussolini. It's OK. It's a very good quote. It's a very interesting quote. And I saw it and I know who said it. But what difference does it make, whether it's Mussolini or somebody else?"