The Despotic Temptation
Unable to contain the chaos and violence engulfing the Middle East and North Africa, Western leaders are once again succumbing to the idea that sometimes the only way to ensure stability is to support a dictator. But tyranny is never genuinely stable, and certainly not in the long term.
MADRID – US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, when asked about American support for the notorious Nicaraguan despot Anastasio Somoza, purportedly replied, “He may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.” Whether or not the quip is apocryphal, it sums up a longstanding Western approach to much of the world – and one that underpinned US foreign policy throughout the Cold War.
But lately an even more troubling sentiment seems to have emerged, with Western leaders willing to settle not for “our son of a bitch,” but for just about any son of a bitch who can impose stability, whatever the cost. It is an alluring but dangerous mindset.
Experience should have pushed Western leaders in the opposite direction. After all, as time passed, the ostensibly pragmatic clientelism of the Cold War proved far from ideal. Indeed, in many cases – the Shah of Iran, Cambodia’s Lon Nol, Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Mobutu Sese Seko, to name a few – it led to long-term insecurity and disorder.