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November 18, 2007

The Problem With Friendly Dictators

What is the problem with friendly dictators? During a discussion on Fox this week about Musharraf, William Kristol explained:

KRISTOL: They are sending Deputy Secretary Negroponte over there earlier this weekend. This is the Marcos moment, I think, where we tell our ally, the friendly and decent dictator, that his time has passed.

The problem with these friendly dictators is they end up wanting to hang on, they like being dictators beyond when it is in their country's national interest, and beyond when it is in our interest.

I think this actually manageable. I do think Musharraf is going to have to go.

This is why we need experts like William Kristol. Unsophisticated people might think the problem with friendly dictators is the "dictator" part. In particular, individuals whose testicles the friendly dictators have hooked up to electrodes often focus on this to the exclusion of what actually matters, which is whether or not the dictators are effectively serving the needs of William Kristol and his friends.

Then there's the dictators themselves. They often are concerned with the way the lifespan of ex-dictators tends to be short. What they don't understand is that they should be happy to die if that's convenient for their employer, the United States. Just as William Kristol doesn't worry about what happens to his maids after they've outlived their usefulness, why should he worry about his dictators?

(Thanks to Dan for sending me this.)

Posted at November 18, 2007 09:38 AM | TrackBack

the kristol method is apparently to be so dense that a sense of compassion for faraway people is nothing but a fleeting tingle felt at the bottom of the feet

Posted by: almostinfamous at November 18, 2007 10:03 AM

If only Jeffrey Dahmer had a friend like Kristol to let him know when he was crossing the line.

Posted by: Bob In Pacifica at November 18, 2007 10:26 AM

Do I recall something about a Law of Institutions? Well it's a good thing to know that Musharraf is law abiding.

Posted by: Richard S at November 18, 2007 10:28 AM

I didn't see it, but people say the show PBS recently broadcast, in which Kristol got the Mark Twain Award at the Kennedy Center, was really good.

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at November 18, 2007 10:50 AM

What happens to Kristol when he's outlived his usefulness? Will the day never come?

Posted by: StO at November 18, 2007 11:23 AM

they like being dictators beyond when it is in their country's national interest...

I'm confused. When is it in the "national interest" of a country to be ruled by a dictator?

I'm not saying it isn't, I'd just appreciate a little guidance here. I mean, maybe "rule by dictator" is in our national interest? I'd hate for us to continue on with this archaic "democracy" thing if our national interest requires something else.

Posted by: SteveB at November 18, 2007 11:25 AM

the early worm generates the buzz

Posted by: hapa at November 18, 2007 11:55 AM

Fred Kagan and Michael O'Hanlon have also weighed in on US military options in Pakistan ("Our Problem") saying that the US shouldn't take the forces out of an "improving situation in Iraq to cope with a deteriorating one in Pakistan. . . A second, broader option would involve supporting the core of the Pakistani armed forces as they sought to hold the country together...this would require a sizeable combat force - not only from the United States, but ideally from other Western powers and moderate Muslim nations."

The US has no qualified south Asia experts in Islamabad or in the State Department. Negroponte is the best the US can do. So we revert to listening to these totally unqualified and mis-directed people regarding a terribly complex situation in a mis-ruled country which borders on Afghanistan, Iran, China and India, and is now "our problem".

No wonder the US is a joke around the world (except where it's killing people).

Posted by: Don Bacon at November 18, 2007 12:50 PM

now that torture is okey-dokey here in the ole USA, does that mean we get a dictator next? will it be a friendly or unfriendly one?

when are they going to shut the borders so that we can not longer leave? I hear the Very Serious People know that this will be a good thing too, along with the friendly dictators. The Very Serious People always know what is best for us.

Posted by: Susan at November 18, 2007 01:00 PM

"friendly dictator" is perhaps similar to "philosopher king"

20th century successful examples might include: Ataturk (Turkey), Lee Kuan Yew (Singapore)

it can be argued that it is in the national interest to be ruled by a friendly dictator when said person has the best interests of the nation at heart, and would do a better job of safeguarding them than would the democratic political process - in Musharraf's own opinion, the situation in Pakistan corresponds to this now ("the nation is more important than anything, even democracy")

perhaps the rule of President-for-life Hillary the Great (assuming unfortunate events do not prevent her assuming power) will assuage our own need for a "friendly dictator"

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at November 18, 2007 01:07 PM

Remember that movie, what the hell was it called? You know, the onewhen the Pakistanis, superglued Negroponte to their atom bomb and the last you see him is when he's waving his cowboy hat while recceding away from the bomb bay doors toward New York? (Yee Haw)

Posted by: Mike Meyer at November 18, 2007 02:31 PM

Y'know, dictators have feelings, too, you guys. And y'know what else - who cares!

It's interesting to see the pretzel contortions the admin is going through to make it clear that Musharraf is in the wrong, but not so clear as to support a people's revolution (people being the lawyers, judges, opposition, ordinary citizens, who are now in jail or ankle-braceleted in their houses), which would not be particularly friendly to the US and its "democratic" principles.

If I were a betting person . . . .

Posted by: catherine at November 18, 2007 02:34 PM


"Friendly" means friendly to the United States, not friendly to the people being ruled.


The word dictator comes from a Roman custom of giving a single person broad authority to resolve a crisis, on the assumption they would relinquish the power once the crisis was resolved. Of course, they rarely would relinquish the power without considerable prodding with sharp pointy things, which usually proved the solution to dictators who overstayed their welcome. Cincinnatus, whom the city of Cincinnati is named for, is the exception that proves the rules, voluntarily returning to his life of gentleman farmer once his term was over.

Posted by: Marcus at November 18, 2007 02:47 PM

Why is anyone listening to Kristol? This is the man who pooh-poohed the possibility of Shia-Sunni conflict in Iraq as "pop psychology." If you get something that wrong in prognosticating shouldn’t you be banned for life or a least laughed at unmercifully? Why is this moron still allowed to bloviate? Why should anyone take him seriously?

Posted by: James at November 18, 2007 07:13 PM

there are two reasons you have to listen to him

1) he's on television all the time
2) it's illegal to stuff his mouth with dead kids' fingers and float him out to sea

Posted by: hapa at November 19, 2007 01:23 AM

2) it's illegal to stuff his mouth with dead kids' fingers and float him out to sea."

But, Hapa, why? It would be so much fun (well, not the kids' fingers, but the rest).

Posted by: catherine at November 19, 2007 10:22 AM

I liked him better when Bruce Vilanch wrote his jokes.

Posted by: Doctorb Science at November 19, 2007 03:15 PM

you know, when benazir was put under house arrest, she called me. "'nando, did the cameras show how much i love democracy?" i told her, "you know, martha asked me exactly the same, and i said, 'it was -- so-so.' but, you, benazir -- marvelous. do you hear what i am saying to you?" it was like looking at the statue of liberty's twin sister, but less nauseated. on my life, i swear this. absolutely marvelous.

Posted by: hapa at November 19, 2007 09:14 PM