Sunday, February 6, 2011

Is it ever right to support a dictator ?


This is a question that is being asked right now inside the White House and the Pentagon. Most people would say that the answer is clearly no. However Henry Kissenger once said that "people of average intelligence believe you can apply the same principles to personal relations as you do to International Relations, this is not so because with International Relations you sometimes have to choose between a lesser of two evils". It is an arrogant statement by Kissenger but it is a statement that one cannot dismiss easly. Joseph Stalin was one of histories greatest monsters yet most people accept that the west was correct to ally themselves with the psychotic communist mad man in order to defeat Hitler. Likewise during the Cold War American foreign Policy came under intense criticism for the active policy of sponsoring right wing military governments in order to prevent the spread of communism. My view is that in certain extreme situations support for dictators was on occasion necessary when the alternative was a Soviet take over of a strategically important nation. Today, President Obama and American Foreign policy experts are faced with the dilemma of whether or not to support a friendly yet brutal Arab dictator when the primary objective of American Foreign Policy is supposed to be the spread of democracy in the Middle East. This dilemma is further complicated by the fact that America not only wants a democratic Middle East, but peace for Israel with its neighbour as well, a paradox at best considering Mubarak's brutal regime is one of only two Arab nations to make peace with Israel. So, what should President Obama do ? Thoughts anyone???

9 comments:

Gary said...

Ted,

Many people live in societies which are basically patriarchal and they are perfectly comfortable allowing their elders, or governments, to make most of the decisions regarding their daily lives. We in the west often see the people in charge of these kinds of governments as "strong men" or dictators. While it is certainly not always the case, it is no coincidence that many times when this type of government falls it is replaced by an equally strong or abusive one. Mubarak was in power for 30 years. Saddam Hussein was in power for 30 years (and would likely still be in power except for US involvement). Stalin lived his entire life in power. Hitler would undoubtedly remained in power for many more years had he not gone to war. There are many, many more examples from Central and South America, Africa, Asia and even the little countries of the former USSR. You can even look at China -if democracy was so instinctively desirable, how come a country with billions of people has not moved more towards it?

Historically, look at the many times people have risen to overthrow Emperors, Monarchs and Dictators only to replace them with another?

I, personally, think it is somewhat arrogant for one people to think, or assume, that because they see and enjoy the benefits of their form of government, that all other people would (should) enjoy the same form. I believe that one common mistake is that we often judge other people and other societies by our standards and not theirs.

Having said that, I do believe democracy in some format is the best choice but history has shown that people must discover that for themselves and find a mechanism for it which best suits them. That process can, unfortunately, be long and painful.

It may be cynical, but I would be willing to bet that a year from now Egypt will have a government whose power over the people will be very similar to what they have known under Mubarak.

Gary

Ted Leddy said...

Gary

Great comment. I know that Russian dissident Natan Sharanksky is critical of this approach in the west. Many people have argued that the national character of the Russian requires a strong man to rule. This appears to infuriate Sharanksky but it is hard to argue with this theory in certain parts of the world.

I was reading about Gaddafi recently, he seized power in Libya in 1969 aged 27. Wow, he is now in his 42 year of dictatorial rule ! There is no doubt that unless the underlying systems in these countries change, when dictators fall they will simply be replaced by another.

Anonymous said...

If the premise for your question is: should the U.S. intervene in whats going on in Egypt? Then the answer is no. Absolutely not. Why would they? what would the reason be? They have to shake this notion that they are gods agents, and must traverse the universe spreading the cause of democracy, like a brave comic strip hero. Its not their business. It might not be nice, but its not their jurisdiction. Stay away Obama.

Eoghan

Gary said...

Ted,

I just finished reading a really excellent piece on this subject in today's 'thedailynewsegypt.com'. It analyzes this question primarily from the perspective of Egyptian and Middle Eastern cultures. I highly recommend it. Here is the web address: http://www.thedailynewsegypt.com/columnists/decoding-egypt-a-vindication-of-the-right-to-revolt-dp2.html

Gary

Ted Leddy said...

Eoghan

I agree the US should not intervene in Egypt in any covert intelligence capacity. But in general the question is an extreme moral dilemma. The best case to understand this is Chile were the CIA covertly overthrew the left wing regime of Allende as they feared he was about to become a Soviet ally. They installed the murderous right wing dictator Pinochet in his place. It was a horrific chapter in Chile's history. Most people think it was a crime by the Americans. Maybe it was, but what if the previous regime had allowed Russian troops and missiles into Chile. What if this had triggered World War 3 ? These are the questions that sometimes have to be asked at the top level of global politics.

A similar question is being asked now regarding Israel and Egypt. If the Muslim Brotherhood come to power in Egypt it will in all probability lead to a Middle East wide war. Bye bye global economic recovery if this happens. So I ask, is it right to support a dictator in Egypt ?

Ted Leddy said...

Gary

Excellent article. I may do a post on this. Thanks for the link.

thesystemworks said...

My take is that we should not abandon liberal democracies who are key allies that face substantial threats from less free countries. I am thinking especially of Israel, South Korea and Taiwan. This is the only situation where assistance is justified, and the goal should always be to enable countries like these to be totally independent in terms of defense.

Despots, on the other hand, can go screw themselves. Supporting them may only lead to our name being associated with an unpopular oppressor: dangerous in a country like Egypt of 85 million people, that controls the Suez Canal. There is serious blow-back to contend with in these situations. Egyptians should be free to choose their own government, as long as they respect other people's right to self-determination (namely, the Jews) and don't interfere with others by supporting global Islamist terrorism.

thesystemworks said...

Ted: If the Muslim Brotherhood take power and tear up the peace treaty with Israel and pursue war, so be it. They won't have military support from the US, and with the Soviet Union gone they are not going to find the sponsor they need.

They could be crushed in days, just like old times.

Mubarak's speech was pathetic, by the way. His incredibly patronising nature would drive the young people of any country crazy.

Paul said...

'They won't have military support from the US, and with the Soviet Union gone they are not going to find the sponsor they need.

TSW - They will it's called Iran.