During this interview on RT last year, Ken Roth spoke a controversial truth: there are things worse than a dictatorship. “I don’t think a dictatorship is the worst scenario,” he says. Like many controversial truths, this one is — as my father used to say — as plain as the ass on a goat. Most people (other than, say, sociopaths and perhaps Patrick Henry, if his rhetoric is to be believed) would rather live amid the grinding repression of a police state than amid mass slaughter and war. Iraq and Libya are objectively worse today for most of their citizens than before western countries removed their dictators.
True, dictatorships are often precursors to wars — the proverbial boiling pots — but most people prefer false peace to real slaughter. Which is why wars are often precursors to dictatorships.
In DC, when the U.S. government is fixing to do regime change, pols depict the targeted dictator as evil incarnate (as opposed to the dictators DC supports, who are “transitioning to democracy,” or “addressing human rights challenges,” or “partnering with the US to fight terror.”) Never mind that the US once did business with the targeted dictator, DC now spins him into a cartoon villain, ignoring all complicating information — such as relative economic prosperity or a decent health care system — the point being that Nothing Could be Worse.
Something could be worse. I wish Ken Roth had given greater weight to this truth before his organization enthusiastically backed the bombing of Libya. He would, I suspect, respond that the target of the bombing wasn’t a dictatorship per se but the imminent slaughter of civilians in Benghazi. To which I would respond: it was obviously a regime change mission from the get, and it has led to suffering much more widespread and uncontainable than what would have occurred in Benghazi. .
As evidence that a dictatorship isn’t the worst scenario, Roth cites the case of Syria, where autocracy’s ostensible calm has given way to mass slaughter. Yet Roth’s answer is for the west to get tough on Assad, perhaps with military action, which would only extend and deepen the war. I draw a different conclusion while applying the same there-are-things-worse-than-dictatorship lesson. The answer to the war in Syria is peace in Syria, a negotiated settlement under which Assad or a successor remains in power. This appears to be the approach favored by a strong majority of Syrians, who back Assad according to all available information. Data compiled last year by Western activists (and given to NATO) found that 70% of Syrians support Assad over foreign-backed rebels. That is, they’ve chosen dictatorship over war.
I’m not suggesting that dictatorships are acceptable. People need governments much better than corrupt, torturing (and great-power appeasing) autocracies. But they won’t get them through western imperialism masquerading as revolution, or through “solidarity” that comes in the form of hellfire missiles. “We” must help those under attack by the dictator, says the humanitarian hawk, but the “we” in question is the US government, and the US government — bent on division, destruction, and domination — is never the friend of democratic movements. In both Libya and Syria, we can see all too vividly what results when relatively weak uprisings get assistance from (are hijacked by) imperial forces, and, yes, it’s worse than what existed before. People living in repression need indigenous movements powerful enough both to dislodge regimes and to reject the insidious help of western countries. There are no shortcuts.