A dictator never sleeps easily, but the longevity of any particular despot seems to depend on the depth of his wickedness. Bad dictators do not endure as long as do absolutely evil dictators. That is to say, the worse the person, the more depraved and murderous the dictator, the more likely it is that he will remain in power and the less likely it is than he will be overthrown by a popular revolution.
The reason is clear: dictators whose brutality knows no limits will wantonly murder civilians who challenge their rule. Hitler and Stalin, of course, stand out in this genre as they murdered civilians by the millions (and Stalin almost all his own citizens), as does Assad of Syria, who liquidated an entire city – Hama – with its population of 20,000 when they threatened his regime in 1982. Mao Zedong likely murdered more civilians than Stalin and Hitler combined, and died a peaceful death. Pol Pot, who executed approximately two million fellow Cambodians, is another who escaped justice. The crueler they are, the less they are encumbered by any sense of restraint or proportion.
Dictators who are bad, rather than atrocious, are more susceptible to popular uprising, and Mubarak falls into that category. These are second-tier tyrants, who usually imprison or murder political opponents but are not wanton executioners, and thus fall prey to popular revolt. Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania, Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, even the parade of Latin American tin pot dictators like Somoza, Pinochet, Peron, Noriega (he was overthrown by the United States) and others were driven from power by popular rebellions, often aided by the military.
Indeed, the only way the completely evil dictators are ever deposed is through a military rebellion, as it is the military that enables them to maintain their grip on power and can readily detach that grip as well. Thus, Idi Amin was exiled by his army, and Hitler himself almost killed in July 1944 by a military conspiracy. Stalin, aware of this dynamic, executed almost his entire officer corps in the 1930s to prevent any semblance of opposition from arising against him. Mussolini was deposed and arrested by members of his own government.
The Communist regimes in Eastern Europe were toppled in the late 1980s and early 1990s because their autocrats, although repressive, never engaged in mass slaughter of civilians. Much the same could be said of the collapse of the Soviet Union, whose rulers allowed it to come apart. In fact, the classification of despots reflects this division. The merely “bad” dictators are often referred to as “authoritarians” or “totalitarians,” whereas the heinous, depraved rulers are termed “dictators.” The major difference between the Eastern European era of repression on 1968 and the era of freedom in 1989 and thereafter was that, unlike Brezhnev, Gorbachev did not send in the tanks to bolster the old Communist regimes.
They are all despicable, to be sure, but it is ironic that the more fiendish the dictator, the more he is likely to survive, and it is the relative moderation of the others that facilitates popular uprisings. As in Mubarak’s case – and in the rest of the Arab world – the street does not matter as much as the support of the military. But, oddly, a Mubarak can be driven from power not because he was brutal or repressive but because he was not brutal or repressive enough.
Here’s another irony that is now old news. The Arab “Wikileaks” scandal (the release by Al-Jazeera of PA diplomatic correspondence) sent Abbas and company into a frenzy when it was allegedly revealed that they had entertained making certain concessions to Israel – acceptance of most settlements, a limitation on the re-flooding of Israel with “refugees” (known as the “Right” of Return), deep security cooperation, and other tantalizing notions. In truth, it is still unknown whether these were PA positions or simply their record of Israeli concessions. But rather than bask in their unexpected “moderation,” the PA was quick to castigate Al-Jazeera and deny making any concessions at all. Most diplomats concerned with public relations would have been quick to embrace their efforts at “peace-making” as good news, a sign of progress and maturity. Instead the PA perceived this as an attempt to overthrow their government and besmirch them in the eyes of their public.
This strange reaction presents only two possibilities: that the PA negotiators are insincere, and are only trying to induce more and more Israeli concessions in exchange for nothing (a winning tactic for twenty years); or that the PA negotiators are sincere, but they recognize that their public will never consider or accept a permanent peace with Israel. Rather than prepare the average Palestinians for the give-and-take of negotiations in which not every demand will be satisfied, the leadership is completely incapable of transforming Palestinian society from being enthusiastic purveyors of terror into being proponents of c o-existence.
Either way, it reflects the sheer insanity of a continued “peace process,” notwithstanding Tom Friedman’s tedious advice (that he has been proffering for…30 years) that now is the last and best opportunity for Israel to make peace. His theory – that Mubarak’s downfall will usher in a wave of radical Islamic governments across the region, and therefore peace must come now, immediately and without delay, with Israel making all the concessions necessary – is as foolish and irrational as most of his advice has always been (so, nominate him for another Pulitzer). Making “peace” (meaning, signing agreements and having ceremonies) with people who cannot enforce it, and are unelected rulers soon to be deposed, makes as much sense as embarking on a cross-country trip now in an old jalopy, because the car is dying and may not be available in a week. Well, yes, but the same car will break down on the journey – like the Oslo train stalled because of terror, rockets, Hamas, and a violation of all agreements to date.
So why would he think that this new agreement, just another agreement, would not meet the same fate and dissolve into more terror and more vulnerability for Israel? Well, maybe that is not such a concern for him, all his protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. More to the point, when will people stop taking seriously the policy recommendations of a person who has been consistently wrong for decades ?
And from irony to farce: The “peaceful” revolution is Egypt, in which the police and military have been lauded for their “restraint,” has to date claimed over 300 lives. That is, 300 Egyptians have been killed in the rioting in a little over a week. And yet, strangely enough, there has been no reference to use of “excessive force,” no laments over the killing of unarmed, innocent civilians, and no calls for UN Security Council condemnations, all standard operating procedure when Israel kills Arab terrorists.
Could it be… hypocrisy ? Might it be a … double standard ? Or perhaps just vicious, anti-Israel propaganda, all to remind us that next time those accusations are lodged against Israel – and there will be a next time – ignore them.