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“The World’s 10 Worst Dictators”?


The February 13 issue of Parade Magazine in the States ran contributing editor David Wallechinsky’s list of “The World’s 10 Worst Dictators,” along with Wallechinsky’s “Dishonorable Mentions” list (i.e., No.s 11-20). An explanatory note told us that he prepared his list “after consultations with Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders—human-rights groups that have not hesitated to expose the policies of dictatorships on both the left and the right.” Parade Magazine‘s website even provided links to each of these four organizations. The list itself was prefaced with the following insight: “Leaders with absolute power too often abuse it.”

(Quick aside. Freedom House is an ideologically-driven, right-wing organization. Now going into its 28 edition, Freedom House’s annual Freedom in the World reports claim to assess the “state of political rights and civil liberties in 192 countries and 18 related and disputed territories.” A glance at the Map of Freedom 2004 or the more readable Tables and Ratings for the 192 countries included in the 2004 edition, however, shows agreement between Freedom House’s assessments and Wallechinsky’s list. By the latter’s reckoning, none of the world’s 20 “worst dictators” held power in countries which Freedom House deemed to be anything other than “Not Free.” Leaving Reporters Without Borders aside, Wallechinsky’s list reads like he relied upon Freedom House-think a hell of a lot more than Amnesty International‘s or Human Rights Watch‘s. (Though the gap between all four of them appears at times to be closing.))

I won’t repeat Wallechinsky’s entire list of the world’s 20 “worst dictators” here. Except to say that by Wallechinsky’s reckoning, No. 1 is Omar al-Bashir, the leader of the Sudan. (Don’t tell me you’re surprised, after the last 15 months of demonization splattered all over Khartoum’s “ethnocentric Arab nationalism” by the Western media.) And No. 20: Khamtai Siphandon of Laos.

Now. Wallechinsky’s list isn’t quite an “Axis of Evil,” “Rogue States,” “Outposts of Tyranny,” or “Failed States” (also sometimes “Weak States“—depending on whether Washington would like to threaten them now or threaten them later) kind of list, either—not simply propaganda, that is, as opposed to the better-camouflaged variety. Were it sheer propaganda, the list would have included only those states which the Americans presently threaten or use violence against, in the hope of making life unlivable for the resident population and compelling so-called regime change. Wallechinsky’s list, on the other hand, includes states and regimes that the speechwriters for the regime in Washington would never mention, even dishonorably: Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (No. 5), Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan (No. 7), Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan (No. 8), and Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan come to mind. All this could change, of course—and in the wink of an eye. For example, were a popular revolution in Saudi Arabia to oust the encrusted ruling elite, Saudi Arabia very well could wind up on Washington’s revised “Axis of Evil” list, taking the spot now vacated by Iraq. (Though even this depends on how the aftermath of the national elections of January 30 works out.) Likewise, were a free and fair and truly democratic election (as opposed to a “demonstration election”) in Pakistan to bring to power political forces that want the Americans out of their country. Or, on the contrary, were Cuba’s Fidel Castro to die, and in the aftermath, the American Mob, Las Vegas casino operators, South Florida’s exile community, the Disney Co., and, last but not least, the CIA and the State Department to take over the joint, Cuba immediately would migrate from the “Outposts of Tyranny” list to the list of newly independent states, emerging democracies, and the like.
So: Let the record state that Wallechinsky’s list contains some bona fide dictatorial, brutal, and criminal regimes on it. If I had more time, I might even check Washington’s official positions on each and every one of the regimes on Wallechinsky’s list to see how closely Wallechinsky’s list agrees with the Master List.—As a friend of mine argued with me recently:

With the exception of Saudi Arabia—which everyone from the Neocons to Michael Moore have in their gunsights—and perhaps Swaziland—every single country on Wallechinsky’s list of the “10 Worst” is at the top of the State Department’s and British Foreign Office’s hit-list, too. In case it hasn’t occurred to you, the 20 countries include every single one that in any sense still calls itself “socialist.” Just a coincidence, right?

Looking over the list, however, I can’t help but be struck by the fact that none of the states and regimes in question currently maintains foreign military bases on at least five continents; none of them has launched large-scale wars of foreign aggression in the past four years (much less two such large-scale wars); and none of them regularly—and we might even say systematically—threatens or uses force, bribery, lies, and manipulation within the international arena to compel not just other individual states, but the whole “international community” (so called), to adopt outcomes favorable to it.
That is to say, whereas all 20 of the regimes that comprise Wallechinsky’s list of the world’s “worst dictators” practice and, indeed, have mastered the art of brutalizing segments of their own populations (at least to some degree)—and in at least one instance, has contributed to monumental human losses as a result: the Democratic Republic of the Congo‘s Joseph Kabila—not a single one of them has come close to practicing this particularly cruel art of statecraft on a scale than transcends not just the international borders they share with neighboring states, but vast oceans and continents. Let alone mastering it.
None of Wallechinsky’s dictators are dictators over much more than their own local fiefdoms. None of Wallechinsky’s human-rights abusers cause humanitarian catastrophes North and South, East and West—all points of the compass, and all at the same time. Nor is any of them, no matter how brutal they are, more than brutal locally, regionally. But, also brutal globally? Forget about it.
Why would a list that purports to be “The World’s 10 Worst Dictators” (or 20 worst) fail to mention the regime that dictates over the lives of peoples not just within particular states—but internationally? Globally?
Isn’t there at least one regime that Wallechinsky has left off of his list? Or that at least somebody ought to mention? Presuming that the list were devoted to the world’s worst dictator? Rather than just the strictly local ones?

Postscript. Five examples lifted from the contemporary rhetoric of empire. At least the first deals with a serious topic in a serious manner. The other four are variations on a theme as old as human conquest: They needed it.

Opponents argue that [nuclear missile defense---NMD] lacks value because rogue states do not need ICBMs to attack the United States with WMD. If faced with an effective U.S. NMD, rogues could turn to short-range ballistic or cruise missiles launched from surface ships operating in international waters off the U.S. coast, or they could smuggle weapons into the United States by land, sea, or air. We believe that effective NMD would retain some value nevertheless, because ICBMs possess military-operational characteristics and political uses not easily provided by other means of delivery.
Alternative means of delivery generally are far less expensive and technically challenging to develop and deploy than is an ICBM. It is much easier to develop or purchase a short-range ballistic or cruise missile and to modify it for launch off a ship than to develop or purchase an ICBM of equal pay-load, and the technical challenges associated with smuggling are trivial in comparison.
Moreover, alternative means of delivery could be at least as effective as ICBMs in delivering WMD to U.S. territory, particularly if the weapons were forward deployed before the start of hostilities. Legitimate commercial traffic across or near U.S. borders is immense, making it difficult, if not impossible, to identify a missile-bearing ship or to intercept a smuggled weapon. The United States has almost no ability to intercept ballistic or cruise missiles launched within a few hundred kilometers of its coastline, and an effective defense against these threats would be at least as costly and technically challenging as NMD. Based on U.S. experience with drug interdiction, a well-planned operation to smuggle WMD into the United States would have at least a 90 percent probability of success—much higher than ICBM delivery even in the absence of NMD.
Alternative means of delivery could have other important advantages: Weapons could be delivered with higher accuracy than would be possible with a first-generation ICBM; smuggled nuclear weapons would not have to meet the stringent size and mass requirements imposed by missile delivery; biological agents could be distributed with much higher efficiency using low-flying cruise missiles or smuggled aerosol generators; and, unlike ICBMs, which carry an unmistakable return address, the United States might be unable to determine the identity of an attacker.
Although alternative means of delivery are cheap and potentially quite effective, their military-operational characteristics are very different from those of ICBMs. Intercontinental missiles reside on national territory, under the firm control of political and military leaders, until the moment of use. To be effective, ship-based missiles or smuggled WMD would have to be forward deployed. Rogue-state leaders might be extremely reluctant to relax their control over such valuable and destructive weapons. They would require loyal agents who could be relied on to use forward-deployed weapons if, and only if, ordered to do so.
A rogue state also would have to consider the possibility that forward-deployed WMD would be discovered during long periods of predeployment. A missile-bearing ship just off the U.S. coast or a nuclear or biological weapon smuggled into a U.S. port would be interpreted as a more direct and immediate threat to the United States than an ICBM. The United States would respond with strong sanctions, perhaps extending to military blockade and efforts to destabilize the rogue-state government. Moreover, a rogue state that manages to acquire nuclear weapons is likely to have a very limited stockpile—perhaps only one or two weapons—which would make it reluctant to forward deploy them simply because losing even one weapon would significantly reduce its capability to inflict damage.
A rogue country might therefore wait until hostilities began to forward deploy its WMD. But if war broke out, the United States would be able to intercept or destroy any ships or aircraft leaving the rogue country. In addition, the United States would activate its counterterrorism programs, increasing surveillance of ships near U.S. coasts and making it more difficult to smuggle a weapon into the United States. Although difficult to quantify, the risks are sufficiently high that it seems unlikely that a rogue country would choose to place primary reliance on its ability to forward deploy WMD once a crisis or war had started.
A key question then is whether a window of opportunity might exist for a rogue country intent on smuggling WMD into the United States—a period when conflict appears likely but before the United States would take measures to prevent suspicious shipments out of the rogue state or into the United States. This would depend largely on the nature of the conflict. If the rogue state plans a “bolt-from-the-blue” attack, it could deploy WMD a month or two before the attack. In other cases, conflict might erupt before the rogue state had an opportunity to act.
In addition to these military-operational differences, there are important political differences between ICBMs and alternative means of delivery. ICBMs are visible symbols of a country’s military power. Their main purpose, in the eyes of a rogue-state leader, may be to acquire prestige, or to deter or coerce great powers. In contrast, forward-based weapons must remain invisible and undetectable to be effective, which limits their deterrent or coercive effect.
In summary, alternative means of delivering WMD would be most attractive to rogue states willing to accept the substantial risks inherent in forward-basing and more concerned with being able to inflict damage on the United States than with using WMD as a deterrent, or to states that are planning a bolt-from-the-blue attack. Such states are likely to be rare. ICBMs should be more attractive to states that value the symbolic and deterrent effect of missiles and that wish to retain tight control over such weapons. The states of greatest concern today—North Korea, Iran, and Iraq—are most likely to fall into the latter category, and therefore should prefer ICBMs over alternative methods of delivery. Although states of this type should be deterred from using WMD by the threat of U.S. retaliation, failures of deterrence cannot be ruled out, and a possible role therefore remains for limited NMD.
——”National Missile Defense and the Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy,” Charles L. Glaser and Steve Fetter, International Security, Summer, 2001

States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.
——President Delivers State of the Union Address, White House Office of the Press Secretary, January 29, 2002

The best hope of grappling with failed states lies in institutionalizing this mix of U.S. leadership and international legitimacy. Fortunately, one does not have to look far to see how this could be accomplished. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) already embody the same hybrid formula: both institutions reflect American thinking and priorities yet are simultaneously multinational. The mixed record of both institutions—notably the World Bank’s failure on failed states—should not obscure their organizational strengths: they are more professional and less driven by national patronage than are U.N. agencies.
A new international body with the same governing structure could be set up to deal with nation building. It would be subject neither to the frustrations of the U.N. Security Council, with its Chinese and Russian vetoes, nor to those of the U.N. General Assembly, with its gridlocked one-country-one-vote system. A new international reconstruction fund might be financed by the rich countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the other countries that currently contribute to the World Bank’s subsidized lending program to the poorest nations. It would assemble nation-building muscle and expertise and could be deployed wherever its American-led board decided, thus replacing the ad hoc begging and arm-twisting characteristic of current peacekeeping efforts. Its creation would not amount to an imperial revival. But it would fill the security void that empires left—much as the system of mandates did after World War I ended the Ottoman Empire.
——”The Reluctant Imperialist: Terrorism, Failed States, and the Case for American Empire,” Sebastian Mallaby, Foreign Affairs, March/April, 2002

A broad band of weak and failed states – in the greater Middle East, as well as from South and Central Asia to Africa and the Caribbean – can harbor terrorists and drug traffickers, spark humanitarian disasters, and undermine global economic growth. They can be immense and powerful states like Nigeria, where uncontrolled communal violence and corruption help turn a state that should be a powerhouse for growth into a source of conflict and chaos. Or they can be small states like Liberia, whose weakness fed everyone from guerrilla fighters next door, to international criminals, to Al Qaeda financiers.
——”Weak states are a US security threat,” Stuart E. Eizenstat and John Edward Porter, Christian Science Monitor, June 29, 2004

To be sure, in our world there remain outposts of tyranny—and America stands with oppressed people on every continent—in Cuba, and Burma, and North Korea, and Iran, and Belarus, and Zimbabwe. The world should apply what Natan Sharansky calls the “town square test”: if a person cannot walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm, then that person is living in a fear society, not a free society. We cannot rest until every person living in a “fear society” has finally won their freedom.
——Opening Remarks by Secretary of State-Designate Dr. Condoleezza Rice, U.S. Department of State, January 18, 2005

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