Good Dictators and Bad Dictators
Perhaps you are confused by U.S. policy towards Middle East dictators. The U.S. supports some, denounces others and launches missiles to overthrow another. Having reported from the region for over 25 years, I can explain what might otherwise seem to be an inconsistent U.S. policy.
There are good dictators and bad dictators. We support the good ones and denounce the bad ones, unless of course, we change our minds.
Take Muammar Qaddafi – please. When he nationalized U.S. and European oil companies in the 1970s, he became a bad dictator. He was such a bad dictator, no one could agree on how to spell his name (Gaddafi? Khadafy?)
Qaddafi was such a bad dictator that the Reagan Administration bombed Tripoli in 1986. But Qaddafi stuck around for another 25 years, proving once again the effectiveness of aerial bombardment in punishing bad dictators.
In 2003 Qaddafi, expecting a U.S. victory in Iraq, stopped planning to build a nuclear weapon and otherwise cooperated with the U.S. and Europeans. While Britain and the U.S. removed sanctions against Libya, Qaddafi blithely continued the brutal repression of his own people.
That was OK, however, because Qaddafi was no longer a bad dictator. He was just naughty.
When a popular uprising against Qaddafi seemed about to lose earlier this year, Qaddafi once again became a very, very bad dictator bent on genocide against his own people. U.S. and European powers began an aerial war but said they wouldn’t send ground troops. They sent in CIA operatives instead.
The opposition leaders, who assassinated their own top general, are now known as heroic freedom fighters. Now that Qaddafi appears to be defeated, western powers have to find a good dictator to take over. That won’t be easy because of the feuds existing amongst exiled politicians, tribal leaders and former Qaddafi officials.
Another wonderful example is Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. He accepted billions in U.S. military aid and didn’t attack Israel. He conducted fraudulent elections, allowed only government-controlled trade unions, muzzled the press and jailed dissidents, subjecting them to horrific torture.
He was a good dictator.
Well actually, Mubarak was a good dictator right up until February of this year when millions demonstrated in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, and workers went on strike in Suez, threatening the entire political and economic system in Egypt. Then he became a bad dictator, which in retrospect, the U.S. had only been reluctantly supporting for strategic, geo-political reasons.
Please remember that such zigzags in U.S. policy reflect our National Interest. It’s a rough world out there and we have to make tough choices. The National Interest benefits all of us, whether rich or poor.
For the long-term stability of our nation, we need access to Middle East oil and gas. We’ve established military bases in the region to protect the sea lanes and pipelines needed to get the crude shipped to U.S. oil companies.
Maintaining high profits for U.S. oil companies is an important component of our National Interest. After all, if oil companies didn’t make outsized profits, we might end up paying $4 for a gallon of gas.
The U.S. has been pursuing the National Interest for many years under both Democratic and Republican administrations, which means it must be OK.
Not only does the U.S. oppose bad dictators, we
always favor democracy. The U.S. favors free elections, for example, unless the wrong people win.
In 2006 the Palestinian Authority held parliamentary elections. International observers agreed the elections were free and fair. Hamas, a conservative Islamist party, won the election. The U.S. and Israel refused to recognize the results and encouraged fighting between Hamas and Fatah, the other major Palestinian party.
In 2007 military skirmishes broke out between Fatah and Hamas. Fatah took control of the West Bank. Hamas took control of Gaza. Israeli officials said they couldn’t hold peace talks as long as the Palestinian leadership remained divided. When Fatah and Hamas agreed to form a joint government earlier this year, Israel said it could never negotiate with the terrorist group Hamas.
The U.S. has remained equally consistent. It calls for the resignation of Bashar al Assad in Syria but makes no such pronouncements about pro-U.S. dictators in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain or Jordan.
So don’t be confused by U.S. policy. Any country opposing the U.S. National Interest can’t be a democracy. Any dictatorship agreeing with U.S. policies is on the road to democratic change.
I hope that clears up any remaining confusion.